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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Executive Functions and subtypes of childhood aggression in young children Kozey, Michelle Lynne


In the present study, linkages between early aggression and Executive Functions (EFs), the cognitive control processes associated with goal-directed behaviour and novel problem solving, were evaluated. Of interest was how specific EFs were related to early dimensional subtypes of aggression, specifically disaggregated into its forms (physical, relational) and functions (proactive, reactive). Kindergarten children (N = 255) were individually rated by teachers in terms of their tendencies to engage in four different subtypes of aggression -- proactive and reactive physical aggression, and proactive and reactive relational aggression. Children rated as high versus low in each of the four subtypes of aggression were compared for differences in “Cool EFs,” such as executive attention, inhibition, working memory, flexibility, planning, and the conjoint use of several EFs, and one “Hot EF” or more affectively-based cognitive control. Results of a series of 2 (high, low aggression) by 2 (male, female) analyses of variance, conducted for each of the four subtypes of aggression, indicated significant differences in Executive Functioning as a function of both levels of aggression and sex (main effects), and multiple interactions of aggression and sex. Boys were rated by their teachers as displaying higher levels of proactive and reactive physical aggression, and more attention problems than girls, whereas no significant sex differences were observed in proactive or reactive relational aggression. Differential patterns of EFs were observed across aggression subtypes and for male versus female children. Higher levels of proactive physical aggression were associated with weaknesses in several specific EFs (i.e., more attention problems; poorer visual-spatial working memory; poorer conjoint selective attention, flexibility, and working memory; and poorer delay of gratification), as were higher levels of reactive physical aggression (i.e., more attention problems; poorer inhibition; poorer visual-spatial working memory; less flexibility; and poorer conjoint selective attention, flexibility, and working memory). Boys with reactive physical aggression demonstrated additional impairments, including poorer delay of gratification and marginally poorer planning abilities. Further, girls high in proactive relational aggression demonstrated stronger verbal working memory and planning abilities, and marginally higher visual-spatial working memory abilities, whereas boys high in reactive relational aggression demonstrated poorer crystallized and planning abilities.

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