Heterogeneity in the development of proactive and reactive aggression in childhood: Common and specific genetic - environmental factors

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© 2017 Paquin et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited. Background: Few studies are grounded in a developmental framework to study proactive and reactive aggression. Furthermore, although distinctive correlates, predictors and outcomes have been highlighted, proactive and reactive aggression are substantially correlated. To our knowledge, no empirical study has examined the communality of genetic and environmental underpinning of the development of both subtypes of aggression. The current study investigated the communality and specificity of genetic-environmental factors related to heterogeneity in proactive and reactive aggression’s development throughout childhood. Methods: Participants were 223 monozygotic and 332 dizygotic pairs. Teacher reports of aggression were obtained at 6, 7, 9, 10 and 12 years of age. Joint development of both phenotypes were analyzed through a multivariate latent growth curve model. Set point, differentiation, and genetic maturation/environmental modulation hypotheses were tested using a biometric decomposition of intercepts and slopes. Results: Common genetic factors accounted for 64% of the total variation of proactive and reactive aggression’s intercepts. Two other sets of uncorrelated genetic factors accounted for reactive aggression’s intercept (17%) on the one hand, and for proactive (43%) and reactive (13%) aggression’s slopes on the other. Common shared environmental factors were associated with proactive aggression’s intercept (21%) and slope (26%) and uncorrelated shared environmental factors were also associated with reactive aggression’s slope (14%). Common nonshared environmental factors explained most of the remaining variability of proactive and reactive aggression slopes. Conclusions: A genetic differentiation hypothesis common to both phenotypes was supported by common genetic factors associated with the developmental heterogeneity of proactive and reactive aggression in childhood. A genetic maturation hypothesis common to both phenotypes, albeit stronger for proactive aggression, was supported by common genetic factors associated with proactive and reactive aggression slopes. A shared environment set point hypothesis for proactive aggression was supported by shared environmental factors associated with proactive aggression baseline and slope. Although there are many common features to proactive and reactive aggression, the current research underscores the advantages of differentiating them when studying aggression.




Paquin, S., Lacourse, E., Brendgen, M., Vitaro, F., Dionne, G., Tremblay, R. E., & Boivin, M. (2017). Heterogeneity in the development of proactive and reactive aggression in childhood: Common and specific genetic - environmental factors. PLoS ONE, 12(12). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0188730

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