Hierarchical Structure of Trait Hostility Outlined in Dutch Study

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Psychometric studies suggest that hostility consists of multiple separate factors, but consensus is lacking. In this study the hierarchical structure of hostility is examined.

Results from principal component analyses published in PLoS One outline a proposed hierarchical structure of self-reported hostility. Specifically, hostility could be described by 5 highly specific factors: angry affect; hostile intent; and verbal, relational, and physical aggression. The development of novel instruments to measure each facet of hostility may be useful for its treatment and research.

“Hostility” is currently a nonspecific term in psychology, often used interchangeably with anger, aggression, irritability, agitation, and frustration. Investigators sought to define hostility with a high degree of specificity to allow for better identification and understanding of antagonistic behavior in patients.

Participants were recruited from the general population in Maastricht, the Netherlands, through an advertisement. Additionally, patients with high hostility levels were recruited from 2 mental health facilities in the same region.

High hostility was defined as a score >1.22 on the hostility subscale of the Personality Inventory for the 5th edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (PID-5H). All participants completed 4 questionnaires: (1) the 10-item anger scale of the State Trait Anger Expression Inventory-2 (STAXI-2T); (2) the 10-item hostility scale of the Aggression Questionnaire (AQH); (3) the 40-item Forms of Aggression questionnaire (FOA); and (4) the 10-item hostility scale of the PID-5H. Principal component analysis was used to identify factor solutions. The process was repeated until factors were too specific to be interpreted.

The study sample included 376 individuals, among whom 29 were recruited from psychiatric institutions. Mean age was 35.15 ± 14.72 years. Men comprised a greater proportion of the clinical cohort (52%) compared to the general population sample (23%) (P =.001). Patients from the clinical sample had higher scores on each of the STAXI-2T, AQH, FOA, and PID-5H compared to the non-clinical sample (all P <.001).

The STAXI-2T, AQH, FOA, and PID-5H were each significantly positively interrelated.

The first principal component was labeled Hostility and displayed significant positive associations to each of the original questionnaires. The principal components in the 2-factor solution were labeled Hostile Cognition and Aggressive Behavior.

Hostile Cognition was strongly related to the total scores of the STAXI-2T, AQH, and PID-5H, while the Aggressive Behavior component related to the FOA. In the 3-component solution, Hostile Cognition split into Angry Affect and Hostile Intent. Angry Affect related to the STAXI-2T and PID-5H; Hostile Intent most closely represented the AQH. In the 4-component solution, the Aggressive Behavior component was split into Social Aggression and Physical Aggression. Physical Aggression related most strongly to the STAXI-2T and FOA. Finally, the Social Aggression component split into a Verbal Aggression and Relational Aggression Component, which both related most strongly to the FOA. The 5-solution model explained 49% of the variance in overall hostility questionnaire results.

Results from this study outline 5 highly specific factors of hostility, suggesting that hostility is a “multifaceted construct” defined by “affective, interpretational, and behavioral characteristics.” Study limitations include the use of self-report for all measures of hostility and the small proportion of men in the non-clinical cohort. “We hope to contribute towards moving the field of aggression research to a more valid and standardized assessment level by further stimulating and ameliorate the accurate and standardized assessment and operationalization of hostility,” the investigators wrote.


van Teffelen MW, Lobbestael J, Voncken MJ, Peeters F. Uncovering the hierarchical structure of self-reported hostility. PLoS One. 2020;15(9):e0239631. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0239631