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Open Access Research

Relations among appetitive aggression, post-traumatic stress and motives for demobilization: a study in former Colombian combatants

Roland Weierstall1*, Claudia Patricia Bueno Castellanos2, Frank Neuner2 and Thomas Elbert1

Author Affiliations

1 Clinical Psychology and Neuropsychology, University of Konstanz, Konstanz, Germany

2 Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy, University of Bielefeld, Bielefeld, Germany

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Conflict and Health 2013, 7:9  doi:10.1186/1752-1505-7-9

Published: 10 April 2013

Abstract

Background

Former combatants have frequently reported that aggressive behaviour can be appetitive and appealing. This appetitive aggression (AA) may be adaptive for survival in a violent environment, as it is associated with a reduced risk of combat-related psychological traumatization. At the same time, AA might impair motivation for re-integration to civil life after ending active duty. Whereas in Colombia those combatants who volunteered for demobilization were mostly tired of fighting, those who demobilized collectively did so mainly by force of the government. We predicted those who were demobilized collectively would still be attracted to violence, and benefit from the resilience against trauma-related mental suffering, moderated by appetitive aggression, as they would have continued fighting had they not been forced to stop.

Method

A sample of 252 former Colombian former combatants from paramilitary and guerrilla forces was investigated. Appetitive aggression was assessed using the Appetitive Aggression Scale (AAS) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms with the PTSD Symptom Scale-Interview (PSS-I). We distinguished between individual and group demobilization and assessed reasons for disarmament.

Results

Most of the guerrilla troops who demobilized individually and were tired of fighting reported both an attraction to violence as well as increased trauma symptoms, owing to their former engagement in violent behaviour. In contrast, among those who were demobilized collectively, appetitive aggression was associated with a reduced risk of PTSD. However, this effect was not present in those combatants in the upper quartile of PTSD symptom severity.

Conclusion

The influence of combat experience on traumatization, as well as the motivation for demobilization, differs remarkably between those combatants who demobilized individually and those who were members of a group that was forced to demobilize. This has important implications for the implementation of re-integration programmes and therapeutic interventions.

Keywords:
Appetitive aggression; PTSD; Colombian former combatants; Resilience