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Front Behav Neurosci. 2018 Feb 27;12:27. doi: 10.3389/fnbeh.2018.00027. eCollection 2018.

Longitudinal Links between Executive Function, Anger, and Aggression in Middle Childhood.

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1
Department of Psychology, University of Potsdam, Potsdam, Germany.

Abstract

Previous research has indicated that executive function (EF) is negatively associated with aggressive behavior in childhood. However, there is a lack of longitudinal studies that have examined the effect of deficits in EF on aggression over time and taken into account different forms and functions of aggression at the same time. Furthermore, only few studies have analyzed the role of underlying variables that may explain the association between EF and aggression. The present study examined the prospective paths between EF and different forms (physical and relational) and functions (reactive and proactive) of aggression. The habitual experience of anger was examined as a potential underlying mechanism of the link between EF and aggression, because the tendency to get angry easily has been found to be both a consequence of deficits in EF and a predictor of aggression. The study included 1,652 children (between 6 and 11 years old at the first time point), who were followed over three time points (T1, T2, and T3) covering 3 years. At T1, a latent factor of EF comprised measures of planning, rated via teacher reports, as well as inhibition, set shifting, and working-memory updating, assessed experimentally. Habitual anger experience was assessed via parent reports at T1 and T2. The forms and functions of aggression were measured via teacher reports at all three time points. Structural equation modeling revealed that EF at T1 predicted physical, relational, and reactive aggression at T3, but was unrelated to proactive aggression at T3. Furthermore, EF at T1 was indirectly linked to physical aggression at T3, mediated through habitual anger experience at T2. The results indicate that deficits in EF influence the later occurrence of aggression in middle childhood, and the tendency to get angry easily mediates this relation.

KEYWORDS:

anger; childhood; executive function; longitudinal study; physical aggression; proactive aggression; reactive aggression; relational aggression

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