Socio-cognitive, physiological, and behavioral predictors of preadolescent physical and relational aggression

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Meghan June Gangel (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
Web Site:
Susan Calkins

Abstract: Historically, aggression has received much attention in the field of psychology, because of the immediate consequences and long-lasting implications of aggressive behavior for both the victim (e.g. Card, 2003) and the perpetrator (e.g. Coie & Dodge, 1988). However, research that has examined the predictors of aggression often has focused on a single form of aggression: either physical or relational aggression (e.g. Spieker et al., 2012). The present study examined a model of both physical and relational aggression in order to determine whether similar processes in middle childhood predict both forms of aggression in preadolescence. Since several theories highlight the role of children’s individual abilities in preadolescent aggression, we considered whether socio-cognitive (Dodge, 1986), physiological (Calkins & Keane, 2004), and behavioral (Zelazo & Cunningham, 2007) factors in middle childhood were predictors of physical and relational aggression in preadolescence. Using behavioral, self-reported, and sociometric nomination indicators the relations among hostile attribution bias, difficulties of physiological regulation, weak executive functioning, and expressions of physical and relational aggression were examined in a longitudinal community-based sample of children aged 7 and 10. Specifically, the study used multivariate multiple regressions to examine the role of children’s hostile attribution bias, respiratory sinus arrhythmia withdrawal, and executive functioning abilities as predictors of peer nominated physical and relational aggression in preadolescence. First, predictors of physical aggression were examined. Results demonstrated that children who had poorer executive functioning scores at age 7, received significantly more peer nominations of physical aggression at age 10. However, children’s hostile attribution bias, RSA withdrawal, and the two-way and three-way interactions of these focal variables at age 7 did not predict children’s use of peer nominated physical aggression at age 10. In contrast to the findings on physical aggression, the interaction of children’s hostile attribution bias and their executive functioning abilities predicted their peer nominated use of relational aggression. Children who had better executive functioning scores at age 7 received significantly more relational aggression nominations at age 10 only when their hostile attribution bias increased. Perhaps, children who have better emotional problem solving skills are able to reassess and reframe their negative emotions and successfully plan more deliberate and covert relational aggression as a response to perceived threats. However, children’s physiological regulation at age 7 did not predict their use of relational aggression at age 10. Children who may have developed more advanced regulatory skills used more peer nominated relational aggression because they did not need to rely on their basic emotional control abilities in order to cope with their emotional challenges. The current study adds to our understanding of the individual processes that contribute to the use of both physical and relational aggression in preadolescence.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2016
Aggression, Preadolescence
Aggressiveness in children

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