Original Paper

Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology

, Volume 35, Issue 4, pp 522-535

First online:

Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

A Meta-Analysis of the Distinction between Reactive and Proactive Aggression in Children and Adolescents

  • Hanneke PolmanAffiliated withDevelopmental Psychology, Utrecht University Email author 
  • , Bram Orobio de CastroAffiliated withDevelopmental Psychology, Utrecht University
  • , Willem KoopsAffiliated withDevelopmental Psychology, Utrecht University
  • , Herman W. van BoxtelAffiliated withDevelopmental Psychology, Utrecht University
  • , Welmoet W. MerkAffiliated withDevelopmental Psychology, Utrecht University


The present meta-analytic review aimed to clarify divergent findings concerning the relation between reactive and proactive aggression in children and adolescents. Fifty-one studies with 17,965 participants were included in the analysis. A significant correlation between reactive and proactive aggression was found. The strength of this relation varied considerably between studies, from −.10 to .89. Observational assessment and tilt/noise tasks were associated with smaller correlations than questionnaires. Within the large group of questionnaire studies, studies disentangling the form and function of aggression found lower correlations than studies that did not disentangle form and function. Among questionnaire studies, higher reliability was associated with larger correlations. Effect size did not depend on other study characteristics such as sample type, age, and informant type. It is concluded that reactive and proactive aggression are most clearly distinguished with behavioral observations and questionnaires that unravel form and functions of aggression.


Meta-analysis Reactive aggression Proactive aggression Aggressive behavior Subtypes of aggressive behavior