The role of aggression-related early maladaptive schemas and schema modes in aggression in a prisoner sample

Dr Ashley Dunne1, Dr Flora Gilbert2, Dr Stuart Lee3, Prof Michael Daffern1

1Swinburne University of Technology, Alphington, Australia, 2Victorian Institute of Forensic Mental Health (Forensicare), Clifton Hill, Australia, 3Monash Alfred Psychiatry Research Centre, Melbourne, 3000


Contemporary social-cognitive aggression theory and extant empirical research highlights the relationship between certain Early Maladaptive Schemas (EMSs) and aggression in offenders. To date, the related construct of schema modes, which presents a comprehensive and integrated schema unit, has received scant empirical attention. Furthermore, EMSs and schema modes have yet to be examined concurrently with respect to aggressive behaviour. This presentation will focus on an empirical study examining associations between EMSs, schema modes, and aggression in an offender sample. Two hundred and eight adult male prisoners completed self-report psychological tests measuring their histories of aggression, EMSs, and schema modes. Regression analyses revealed that EMSs were significantly associated with aggression but did not account for a unique portion of variance once the effects of schema modes were taken into account. Three schema modes, Enraged Child, Impulsive Child, and Bully and Attack, significantly predicted aggression. These findings support the proposition that schema modes characterised by escalating states of anger, rage, and impulsivity characterise aggressive offenders. In this regard, we call attention to the need to include schema modes in contemporary social-cognitive aggression theories, and suggest that systematic assessment and treatment of schema modes has the potential to enhance outcomes with violent offenders.


Dr Ashley Dunne is an early career research fellow and psychologist. She received her Doctor of Psychology in Clinical and Forensic Psychology from Swinburne University of Technology, Australia, in 2017. Dr Dunne’s research interests focus on aggression and violence, personality disorder, schema therapy, and the development of therapeutic and rehabilitative approaches for offenders. She has been involved in a range of research projects, including: examining the role of personality disorder traits and psychological constructs to the aggressive behaviour of offenders and the evaluation of group intervention programs for high risk violent offenders. Currently, she is developing a schema therapy informed violence intervention module for adult offenders. In her clinical capacity, Dr Dunne works in a new, high-secure therapeutic environment for violent and sexual offenders with severe mental illness and complex and challenging behaviour.

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