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Childhood trauma is a risk factor for subsequent violent behavior. Studies of victimized women find that physical and sexual abuse in childhood increase risk for violence against domestic partners and spouses. Individuals with documented neglect and abuse are four times more likely to develop personality disorders than the general population. Physical and sexual abuse both increase risk for ASPD and borderline personality disorder, conditions for which aggression is a core symptom. The bases for this association have been elucidated using animal models. Rodents exposed to early environmental stress (i.e., decreased frequency of maternal licking, grooming, and arched back nursing) have altered neurophysiological and neuroendocrine parameters mediated by neural circuits linking the amygdala, hippocampus, and prefrontal cortex, affecting domains such as processing of emotional information and stress responsivity (Zhang et al. 2004). These findings are consistent with data indicating that victims of childhood abuse and neglect often have difficulty processing and modulating emotional reactions to life events and that the inability to properly regulate physiological arousal in the context of affect-laden experiences can easily escalate to aggressive behavior (Caspi et al. 2002).

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