Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology

, Volume 45, Issue 5, pp 899–910 | Cite as

Executive Functioning and Engagement in Physical and Relational Aggression among Children with ADHD

  • Julia D. McQuade
  • Rosanna P. Breaux
  • Rose Miller
  • Laney Mathias


Although evidence suggests that executive functioning (EF) impairments are implicated in physically aggressive behavior (e.g., hitting) these cognitive impairments have rarely been examined with regard to relational aggression (e.g., gossip, systematic exclusion). Studies also have not examined if EF impairments underlie the expression of aggression in children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and if child gender moderates risk. Children with and without clinical elevations in ADHD symptoms (N = 124; ages 8–12 years; 48 % male) completed a battery of EF tests. Parent and teacher report of ADHD and oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) symptoms and teacher report of engagement in physical and relational aggression were collected. Models tested the unique association of EF abilities with physical and relational aggression and the indirect effect through the expression of ADHD or ODD behaviors; child gender was also tested as a moderator. EF impairment was uniquely associated with physical aggression, but better EF ability was associated with relational aggression. For boys, poor EF also was indirectly associated with greater physical aggression through the expression of ADHD behaviors. However, ADHD symptoms were unrelated to relational aggression. ODD symptoms also predicted physical aggression for boys but relational aggression for girls. Results suggest that there are multiple and distinct factors associated with engagement in physical and relational aggression and that better EF may actually promote relational aggression. Established models of physical aggression should not be assumed to map on to explanations of relational aggression.


Executive functioning Physical aggression Relational aggression ADHD Odd 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Julia D. McQuade
    • 1
  • Rosanna P. Breaux
    • 2
  • Rose Miller
    • 1
  • Laney Mathias
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyAmherst CollegeAmherstUSA
  2. 2.Department of Psychological and Brain SciencesUniversity of Massachusetts AmherstAmherstUSA

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