Temperament, forms of aggression, and their consequences

Temperament, Forms of Aggression, and their Consequences
Full Reference
Vitaro, F., Brendgen, M., & Tremblay, R. E. (2002). Reactively and proactively
aggressive children: Antecedent and subsequent characteristics. Journal of Child
Adolescence, aggression, behaviour problems, delinquency, depression, temperament
Main Questions
Do children who use different types of aggression (i.e., reactive, proactive, reactive &
proactive, none) have different previously existing temperaments? Do children who use
these different types of aggression differ in their delinquent behaviour and depressive
symptoms during early adolescence?
Proactive aggression is goal-oriented; it requires neither provocation nor anger. On the
other hand, reactive aggression stems from provocation and involves anger. A child may
engage in one, both, or neither forms of aggression. It can be hard to tel the difference
between these two types from a bystander viewpoint. Past researchers have shown
differences between reactively and proactively aggressive children in areas such as
popularity, interpretation of social interactions, and abilities to handle conflict. Reactively
aggressive children are less skilled in these areas than proactively aggressive children.
In fact, peers often accept proactively aggressive children, but often reject reactively
aggressive children. Based on these differences, researchers have hypothesized that the
causes of aggressive behaviour are different for children depending on their tendency to
use one form of aggression over another form. For example, parents who use power
and aggression to control their children may teach their children to use reactive
aggression, whereas parents who reinforce the use of aggression and use it themselves
to get what they want, may teach their children to use proactive aggression.

Who Was Involved
Children, parents, and teachers who participated in this study came from a larger
longitudinal study that was following children from age six through to adolescence. The
researchers randomly selected the children involved in this study from French schools in
Quebec. The participants were predominately white and French speaking. The majority
of the children lived with both biological parents (80%) and came from middle-class
families. Approximately half of the children were boys. For the current study, 4,659
mothers answered questions about their child’s temperament when the child was six
Promoting Relationships and Eliminating Violence Network, 2007 years old. Then, teachers answered questions for 2,550 of those children regarding each
child’s use of proactive and reactive aggression when the child was 10, 11, and 12 years
old. Finally, at 13 years of age 1,245 children answered questions about their
involvement in delinquent acts (e.g., using a weapon, stealing, etc.) and their
experience with depressive feelings.

What We Found
Children who use different forms of aggression in later childhood differ in terms of their
early temperaments. More specifically, reactively aggressive children were rated by their
mothers as more reactive (including being reactive to stimuli such as light or pain) and
more inattentive than proactively-only or non-aggressive children. This study supported
the hypothesis that children characterized by reactive or proactive aggression differ on
several dimensions of personal functioning and that the two types of aggression are
distinct forms of aggression even though many aggressive children display both types.
Children with reactive temperaments at a young age likely have low thresholds for
frustration, punishment, and threat, and when exposed to harsh environments they may
develop defensive patterns of aggression as a way to cope with such environments.
At age 13, the proactively aggressive children reported more overt delinquency than the
reactively-aggressive children reported. The two groups reported the same levels of
covert aggression. This suggests that proactively aggressive children are at a greater
risk for engaging in overall delinquent behaviours. Proactively aggressive children may
be more delinquent because of the way peers influence each other during early
adolescence. Proactively aggressive children tend to have more friends than reactively
aggressive children and those friends tend to engage in more proactive aggression.
Conversely, at age 13, the reactively aggressive children reported more depressive
feelings than did all the other children. Reactively aggressive children may have more
depressive feelings because they tend to be more rejected, socially isolated, and
victimized by both parents and peers compared to their proactively aggressive
It is important to distinguish between reactive and proactive aggression to improve the
prediction of later adjustment problems. Understanding the differences between children
who use these two types of aggression will also improve the understanding of
differences in aggressive children’s psycho-social functioning, their past history, and
developmental pathways. These differences may play a role in clinical problems that
some children have. For example, two common clinical childhood behavioural disorders
are conduct disorder and oppositional defiant disorder. Interestingly, a diagnosis of
conduct disorder involves many proactive elements (e.g., aggression to people and
Promoting Relationships and Eliminating Violence Network, 2007 animals), whereas a diagnosis for oppositional defiant disorder almost exclusively involves reactive elements. Knowing the unique needs of children who engage in different types of aggression may help when intervening with them. It will be important to adjust prevention/intervention programs to the specific needs and difficulties of proactively and reactively aggressive children. Promoting Relationships and Eliminating Violence Network, 2007

Source: http://www.prevnet.ca/sites/prevnet.ca/files/research/PREV-Vitaro-etal-2002-Communique-temperament.pdf

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