Reactive and proactive aggression as meaningful distinctions at the variable and person level in primary school-aged children

Annemaree Carroll, Molly McCarthy, Stephen Houghton, Emma Sanders O'Connor, Corinne Zadow

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

8 Citations (Scopus)
307 Downloads (Pure)


Reactive and proactive aggression is a dichotomous classification of aggression in adults and children. This distinction has been supported by a number of variable-based and factor analytic studies. Due to high inter-correlations, however, the reactive—proactive aggression distinction may not be entirely useful for understanding how group or individual aggressive behavior varies in children and adolescents. Drawing on a sample of primary school-aged children (N = 242) aged 7–12 years, this study sought to determine whether reactive and proactive aggression could be distinguished at the variable-level and the person-level in children. Exploratory Factor Analysis of data from an aggression instrument measuring both functions and forms of aggression, found a two-factor construct of aggression constituted by a reactive and proactive aggression factor. A person-based analysis was then conducted after classifying children according to the presence of reactive and/or proactive aggression. Discriminant function analysis was used to discern whether classifications on the basis of aggression function produced meaningful distinctions in terms of antisocial traits and emotional valence and intensity measures. Two functions were identified which distinguished children with different combinations of reactive and proactive aggression. Reactive-only aggressive children were defined primarily by high levels of impulsivity, while proactive-only children were defined primarily by higher levels of antisocial traits. Children high in both types of aggression exhibited both the presence of antisocial traits and impulsivity. Contrary to recent findings, this suggests that differences in aggression functions remain meaningful at the person level in children. Implications for interventions are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)431-441
Number of pages11
JournalAggressive Behavior
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sep 2018

Fingerprint Dive into the research topics of 'Reactive and proactive aggression as meaningful distinctions at the variable and person level in primary school-aged children'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this