Date of Award

1-1-1999

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Psychology

Faculty

Faculty of Community Services, Education and Social Sciences

Abstract

Prisoners with a history of self-harm have reported experiencing more anger (e.g., Hilbrand, Krystal, Sharpe, & Foster, 1994 ), and despair (e.g., Shea, 1993 ), and less ability to cope (e.g., Shea, 1993; Liebling, 1992) than prisoners with no history of self-harm. This suggests that intense negative affective experiences and less control over these states might be pervasive characteristics in individuals vulnerable to self-harm. The present study tested the hypotheses that high affect intensity, the tendency to experience both positive and negative emotional states intensely (Larsen & Diener, 1987), and deficits in negative affect regulation would be associated with self-harm behaviour. Twenty prisoners with a history of self-harm and twenty control prisoners rated emotional responsiveness on a modified version of the Affect Intensity Measure (Larsen & Diener, 1987), and the utility of strategies to decrease intense negative affective states on an affect regulation strategies checklist (ARSC). Prisoners with a history of self-harm reported experiencing significantly more intense- levels of negative affect and less experience of serene states than control prisoners. Positive affect intensity levels did not differ between groups. The self-harm group reported utilising a significantly more varied, but less efficient repertoire of affect regulation strategies. They also rated cognitive strategies significantly lower and aggressive strategies significantly higher. Results suggest that screening prisoners for intense negative emotional responsiveness and dysfunctional affect regulation may facilitate the identification and management of prisoners vulnerable to self-harm. Further research is required to validate the dimensions of the AlM(M) and the ARSC, and explore the mechanisms of intense negative affective experiences and self-harm behaviour.

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