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Dual Trajectories of Reactive and Proactive Aggression from Mid-childhood to Early Adolescence: Relations to Sensation Seeking, Risk Taking, and Moral Reasoning

Abstract

We examined the roles of sensation seeking, risk taking, and moral reasoning in the development of reactive and proactive aggression. Data were drawn from a multiethnic, longitudinal study of children from Switzerland (N = 1571; 52 % male; assessed annually over 6 years; 7-years-old at Time 1). At all 6 time points, teachers reported children’s reactive and proactive aggression via questionnaire. Children’s sensation seeking (at Time 1) and risk taking (at Time 2) were assessed with two interactive computer tasks and their moral reasoning was assessed at Time 2 in response to four hypothetical vignettes depicting moral transgressions. Parallel process Latent Class Growth Analysis (PP-LCGA) identified six dual trajectories of reactive and proactive aggression. Children with either childhood-limited or adolescent-onset aggression showed high sensation seeking. Children with persistent, high levels of both reactive and proactive aggression across time showed high levels of sensation seeking and risk taking, as well as low levels of moral reasoning. Children with only high risk taking were more likely to display moderate levels of aggression across time. These findings highlight the shared and differential roles of sensation seeking, risk taking, and moral reasoning in the dual development of reactive and proactive aggression from mid-childhood to early adolescence. We discuss implications for common and tailored strategies to combat these aggression subtypes.

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Acknowledgments

The authors would like to thank the Jacobs Foundation (currently grant number 2013-1081-1) and the Swiss National Science Foundation (currently grant number 100014_149979) for their continued financial support of the study as well as the Swiss Federal Office of Public Health, the Canton of Zürich’s Department of Education and the Swiss Federal Commission on Migration and the Julius Baer Foundation for their substantial financial support in earlier project phases. They would also like to express their sincere thanks to the youths, parents, and teachers for participating in this study. Moreover, the authors are grateful to all the fieldwork staff and students for their help in data collection and coding.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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Cui, L., Colasante, T., Malti, T. et al. Dual Trajectories of Reactive and Proactive Aggression from Mid-childhood to Early Adolescence: Relations to Sensation Seeking, Risk Taking, and Moral Reasoning. J Abnorm Child Psychol 44, 663–675 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10802-015-0079-7

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Keywords

  • Reactive aggression
  • Proactive aggression
  • Sensation seeking
  • Risk taking
  • Moral reasoning
  • Longitudinal study