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ResearchersinvestigateaggressionamongkindergartnersScienceDaily

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Researchersinvestigateaggressionamongkindergartners
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September27,2012
PennState
Notallaggressivechildrenareaggressiveforthesamereasons,accordingtoresearchers,who
foundthatsomekindergartnerswhoareaggressiveshowlowverbalabilitieswhileothersare
moreeasilyphysiologicallyaroused.Thefindingssuggestthatdifferenttypesoftreatmentsmay
beneededtohelpkidswithdifferentunderlyingcausesforproblembehavior.

FULLSTORY

Notallaggressivechildrenareaggressiveforthesamereasons,accordingtoPenn
Stateresearchers,whofoundthatsomekindergartnerswhoareaggressiveshowlow
verbalabilitieswhileothersaremoreeasilyphysiologicallyaroused.Thefindings
suggestthatdifferenttypesoftreatmentsmaybeneededtohelpkidswithdifferent
underlyingcausesforproblembehavior.
"Aggressiveresponsestobeingfrustratedareanormalpartofearlychildhood,butchildrenareincreasingly
expectedtomanagetheiremotionsandcontroltheirbehaviorwhentheyenterschool,"saidLisaGatzkeKopp,
assistantprofessorofhumandevelopmentandfamilystudies."Kidswhodon'tdothiswell,whohittheir
classmateswhentheyarefrustratedorcauseothertypesofdisturbancesintheclassroom,areatespecially
highriskforlongtermconsequencesincludingdelinquency,violence,droppingoutofschool,abusing
substancesandevensuicide.Researchtellsusthattheearlierwecanintervene,thebetterthechancesof
gettingthesechildrenbackontrack."
GatzkeKoppandhercolleagues,whoincludeMarkGreenberg,professorofhumandevelopmentandfamily
studiesandofpsychology,askedeachofthekindergartenteachersinall10oftheelementaryschoolsin
Pennsylvania'sHarrisburgSchoolDistricttoratetheaggressivebehaviorsoftheirstudentsonasixpointscale
withitemssuchas"getsinmanyfights"and"cruelty,bullyingormeannesstoothers."Usingthesedata,the
teamrecruitedagroupofhighriskchildren(207children)andagroupoflowriskchildren(132children)to
undergoarangeofneurobiologicalmeasuresaimedatunderstandinghowaggressivechildrenexperienceand
manageemotionsdifferentlythantheirnonaggressiveclassmates.
Theteamassessedallofthechildren'scognitiveandacademicskillsusingstandardizedteststhatidentifiedthe
children'sdevelopmentallevelofvocabulary,spatialreasoningandmemory.Inaddition,theteamasked
teacherstoprovideratingsofeachchild'sbehaviors,includingtheirlevelsofaggression,disobedienceand
sadness,aswellastheirsocialskillsandlevelofselfcontrolintheclassroom.
Theresearchersalsoassessedthechildren'sbrainfunctioningusingamobileresearchlaboratorytheybrought
totheschools.Withinthemobilelab,theteammeasuredthechildren'sheartrateandskinconductanceactivity
duringtasksdesignedtoelicitemotionalresponses,includingshowingthechildrenshortvideoclipsofacartoon
characterinavarietyofsituationsdepictingfear,sadness,happinessandanger.Theresearcherswantedto
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ResearchersinvestigateaggressionamongkindergartnersScienceDaily

understandhowemotionalandphysicalarousaltodifferenttypesofemotionsdifferedbetweenchildrenwho
engageinaggressivebehaviorandchildrenwhodon'tengageinaggressivebehavior,aswellashowdifferent
childrenwhoengageinaggressivebehaviorreact.
AccordingtoGatzkeKopp,theassessmentsenabledtheresearcherstounderstandhowcognitiveand
emotionalprocessingmaycontributetothedevelopmentofaggressivetendencies.Specifically,theteamfound
that90percentoftheaggressivekidsinthestudycouldbecharacterizedaseitherlowinverbalabilityormore
easilyphysiologicallyaroused.TheresultswillappearintheAugust2012issueofDevelopmentand
Psychopathology.
"Whatwemaybeseeingisthatthereareatleasttwodifferentroutesthroughwhichachildmayact
aggressively,"GatzkeKoppsaid."Becausetheseareverydifferentprocesses,thesechildrenmayneed
differentapproachestochangingtheirbehavior."
Thefirstgroupofkidswascharacterizedbylowerverbalability,lowerlevelsofcognitivefunctioningandfewer
executivefunctionskills.
AccordingtoGatzkeKopp,childrenneedverbalskillstounderstandthefeelingsofothersandguidancefrom
adults,andtoexpressfeelingswithouthitting.Theyalsoneedadequatecognitiveandexecutivefunction
abilitiestomanipulateinformationandtothinkofalternativestohittingandfighting.
"Thisgroupofkidsmaybefunctioningatacognitivelevelthatismoreakintoapreschoolerthana
kindergartner,"GatzkeKoppsaid."Theyhaveahardertimeextractingwhatotherpeoplearefeeling.They
don'thaveanuancedsenseofemotionseverythingiseitherhappyorsadtothem.Sotheymightnotbeas
goodatrecognizinghowtheirbehaviorismakinganotherchildfeel.Theymayliterallyhaveahardtime'using
theirwords,'sohittingbecomesaneasiersolutionwhentheyarefrustrated."
Thesecondgroupofkidshadgoodverbalandcognitivefunctioning,buttheyweremorephysiologically
aroused.Theyweremoreemotionallyreactive,andtendedtohavemorestressorsintheirlives.
"Thesechildrenmaybeabletotellyouthatifsomebodypushedthemontheplaygroundtheywouldgogeta
teacher,butthepushhappensandtheykindofloseitanditdoesn'tmatterwhattheyshoulddo,theyjustacton
impulse,"Greenbergsaid."Onepossibilityisthatthethresholdformanagingfrustrationisquitelowforthese
kids.Sowhatwemightconsideraminorannoyancetothemisamajorthreat.Whentheyarecalmtheyfunction
verywell,butwhentheylosecontroloftheiremotions,theycan'tcontroltheirbehavior."
Inthefuture,theteamplanstoexaminehowthesedifferenttypesofchildrenrespondtoanintervention
deliveredoverthesecondhalfofkindergartenandthefirsthalfoffirstgrade.
ThePennsylvaniaDepartmentofHealthfundedthisresearch.OtherauthorsofthepaperincludeChristine
Fortunato,postdoctoralfellow,andMichaelCoccia,statisticalconsultant,bothinthePennStatePrevention
ResearchCenterforthePromotionofHumanDevelopment.

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TheabovepostisreprintedfrommaterialsprovidedbyPennState.Note:Contentmaybeeditedforstyleand
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