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Am J Orthopsychiatry. 2018;88(3):346-353. doi: 10.1037/ort0000319. Epub 2018 Feb 22.

Proactive aggression in early school-aged children with externalizing behavior problems: A longitudinal study on the influence of empathy in response to distress.

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Department of Psychiatry, Brain Center Rudolf Magnus, University Medical Center Utrecht.
Department of Developmental Psychology, Utrecht University.


The course of proactive aggressive behavior may be affected by empathy in response to sadness and distress of others. The aim of the current study is to examine empathy in response to sadness and distress and its relation to proactive and reactive aggression in a clinical sample of children with externalizing behavior problems. At baseline (T1) and 12 months later (T2), parents and teachers of 104 six- and seven-year-old children completed the Instrument for Reactive and Proactive Aggression. At T1, parents and teachers also reported empathy in response to sadness and distress on the Griffith Empathy Measure. Findings show that low levels of parent-reported empathy at baseline were specifically associated with high parent-reported proactive aggression but not with reactive aggression. Similarly, low teacher-reported empathy was specifically related to high teacher-reported proactive aggression. Furthermore, high parent-reported but not teacher-reported empathy at baseline was associated with low proactive aggression at 12 months after controlling for proactive aggression at baseline. The conclusions support the notion that in the study of the course of aggression in clinical groups, the distinction between proactive and reactive aggression as well as the study of empathy in response to distress is relevant for a better understanding and might be taken into account in the development of future interventions. (PsycINFO Database Record.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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