Social cognitive training improves emotional processing and reduces aggressive attitudes in ex-combatants

Trujillo, Sandra and Trujillo, Natalia and Lopez, Jose D. and Gomez, Diana and Valencia, Stella and Rendon, Jorge and Pineda, David A. and Parra, Mario A. (2017) Social cognitive training improves emotional processing and reduces aggressive attitudes in ex-combatants. Frontiers in Psychology: Cognitive Science, 8. ISSN 1664-1078

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    Abstract

    Emotional processing (EP) is a complex cognitive function necessary to successfully adjust to social environments where we need to interpret and respond to cues that convey threat or reward signals. Ex-combatants have consistently shown atypical EP as well as poor social interactions. Available reintegration programs aim to facilitate the re-adaptation of ex-combatants to their communities. However, they do not incorporate actions to improve EP and to enhance cognitive-emotional regulation. The present study was aimed at evaluating the usefulness of an intervention focused on Social Cognitive Training (SCT), which was designed to equip ex-combatants enrolled in the Social Reintegration Route with EP and social cognition skills. A group of 31 ex-combatants (mean age of 37.2, 29 men) from Colombian illegal armed groups were recruited into this study. Of these, 16 were invited to take part in a SCT and the other continued with the conventional reintegration intervention. Both groups underwent 12 training sessions in a period 12-14 weeks. They were assessed with a comprehensive protocol which included Psychosocial, Behavioral, and Emotion Processing instruments. The scores on these instruments prior to and after the intervention were compared within and between groups. Both groups were matched at baseline. Ex-combatants receiving the SCT experienced significant improvements in EP and a reduction in aggressive attitudes, effects not observed in those continuing the conventional reintegration intervention. This is the first study that achieves such outcomes in such a population using SCT intervention. We discuss the implications of such results toward better social reintegration strategies.