Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology

, Volume 37, Issue 2, pp 169–182 | Cite as

Hypothalamic Pituitary Adrenal Axis Functioning in Reactive and Proactive Aggression in Children

  • Nestor L. Lopez-DuranEmail author
  • Sheryl L. Olson
  • Nastassia J. Hajal
  • Barbara T. Felt
  • Delia M. Vazquez


The purpose of this study was to examine the association between hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA-axis) reactivity and proactive and reactive aggression in pre-pubertal children. After a 30-min controlled base line period, 73 7-year-old children (40 males and 33 females) were randomly assigned to one of two experimental tasks designed to elicit fear (N = 33) or frustration (N = 32), or a validity check condition (N = 8). This was followed by a 60-min controlled regulation phase. A total of 17 saliva samples for cortisol analysis were collected including 12 post-stress samples at 5-min intervals. Reactive and proactive aggression levels were assessed via the teacher-completed Aggression Behavior Teacher Checklist (Dodge and Coie, J Pers Soc Psychol, 53(6), 1146–1158, 1987). Reactive aggression significantly predicted total and peak post-stress cortisol regardless of stress modality. Proactive aggression was not a predictor of any cortisol index. Examination of pure reactive, proactive, combined, or non-aggressive children indicated that reactive aggressive children had higher cortisol reactivity than proactive and non-aggressive children. Our data suggest that while an overactive HPA-axis response to stress is associated with reactive aggression, stress induced HPA-axis variability does not seem to be related to proactive aggression.


Cortisol HPA Aggression Reactive aggression Proactive aggression Children Stress Response Fear Frustration 



Funding for this project was provided by NIMH grants R01MH57489 awarded to Dr. Sheryl Olson, NIMH P50 and MH59396 awarded to Dr. Arnold Sameroff and Dr. Delia M. Vazquez, and by the University of Michigan C.S. Mott Research Fund awarded to Dr. Delia M. Vazquez.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Nestor L. Lopez-Duran
    • 1
    Email author
  • Sheryl L. Olson
    • 2
  • Nastassia J. Hajal
    • 3
  • Barbara T. Felt
    • 2
  • Delia M. Vazquez
    • 2
  1. 1.Western Psychiatric Institute and ClinicUniversity of PittsburghPittsburghUSA
  2. 2.University of MichiganAnn ArborMichigan
  3. 3.Pennsylvania State UniversityState CollegePennsylvania

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