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Childhood aggression and executive functioning : variations across boys and girls Moore, Jessica


Childhood aggression has long been a significant concern for researchers, practitioners and policy makers alike, due to its ominous connection to psychological maladjustment in both its perpetrators and victims. As modern theories of the origins of aggression shift to incorporate the role of neuropsychological risk factors, increasing empirical attention has been paid to executive functioning and its link to childhood aggression. Recent developmental research has documented links between executive functioning deficits and physical aggression, but the role of executive functioning in physical aggression’s more cognitively complex counterpart, relational aggression, is less established and may differ across boys and girls. The current study attempted to replicate and extend recent findings regarding sex differences in the associations between executive functioning and physical versus relational aggression in preschool-aged children, as well as examine differences in parent and teacher ratings of executive functioning and aggression. The results of a standard multiple regression indicated several key and significant findings. Replicating previous findings, boys were found to be more physically aggressive than girls, but there were no sex differences in levels of relational aggression. Also consistent with previous research, children who were high in physically aggressive behaviors were found to display elevated deficits in executive functioning according to both teachers and parents, especially “hot” EFs - inhibition, shifting and emotional control. In terms of relational aggression, parent ratings of poor emotional control predicted relational aggression in both boys and girls. Teacher ratings indicated marginal sex differences. Specifically, for girls, deficits in inhibition and shifting and working memory were associated with higher ratings of relational aggression, but for boys, poor inhibition predicted higher relational aggression. The results of the current study lend some support for a sex-specific model of EF and aggression.

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