Relations between Reactive and Proactive Aggression and Daily Emotions in Adolescents

  • Christina C. MooreEmail author
  • Julie A. Hubbard
  • Megan K. Bookhout
  • Fanny Mlawer


The current study examined whether individual differences in reactive and proactive aggression: 1) relate to level of daily emotion, including happiness, sadness, anger, and fear, 2) predict across-day variability in these emotions, and 3) moderate reactivity of these emotions to positive and negative events. Participants were a racially/ethnically diverse sample of 144 adolescents (80 girls, 64 boys; M age = 13.55 years; SD = 1.34). Adolescents self-reported on reactive and proactive aggression in a home visit prior to the collection of daily data. Using daily dairy procedures, adolescents then reported on their daily emotions and positive/negative events over 12 consecutive days. Higher reactive aggression was associated with greater levels of daily anger, more variability in anger across days, and heightened angry reactivity to negative events. Additionally, higher reactive aggression predicted lower levels of daily happiness but greater happy reactivity to positive events. Finally, higher reactive aggression was linked to increased variability in daily fear. In contrast, proactive aggression was largely unrelated to adolescents’ daily emotions, with the exception that higher proactive aggression predicted less variability in happiness across days. Results indicate that reactive aggression is characterized by significant emotionality at the daily level, and proactive aggression is characterized by lack of emotionality.


Aggression Emotions Adolescence 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

This research was conducted with ethical approval by the University of Delaware Institutional Review Board.

Informed Consent

Parental informed consent and child assent were obtained for all participants included in the current study.


  1. Aghajani, M., Klapwijk, E. T., van der Wee, N. J., Veer, I. M., Rombouts, S. A. R. B., Boon, A. E., van Beelen, P., Popma, A., Verjeiren, R. R. J. M., & Colins, O. F. (2017). Disorganized amygdala networks in conduct-disordered juvenile offenders with callous-unemotional traits. Biological Psychiatry, 82(4), 283–293. Scholar
  2. Arsenio, W. F., Gold, J., & Adams, E. (2004). Adolescents’ emotion expectancies regarding aggressive and nonaggressive events: Connections with behavior problems. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 89(4), 338–355. Scholar
  3. Baker, E., Shelton, K. H., Baibazarova, E., Hay, D. F., & Van Goozen, S. H. (2013). Low skin conductance activity in infancy predicts aggression in toddlers 2 years later. Psychological Science, 24(6), 1051–1056. Scholar
  4. Barker, E. D., Oliver, B. R., Viding, E., Salekin, R. T., & Maughan, B. (2011). The impact of prenatal maternal risk, fearless temperament and early parenting on adolescent callous-unemotional traits: A 14-year longitudinal investigation. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 52(8), 878–888. Scholar
  5. Bauer, D. J., & Curran, P. J. (2005). Probing interactions in fixed and multilevel regression: Inferential and graphical techniques. Multivariate Behavioral Research, 40(3), 373–400. Scholar
  6. Berkowitz, L. (1993). Aggression: Its causes, consequences, and control. New York: Academic.Google Scholar
  7. Berkowitz, L., & Harmon-Jones, E. (2004). Toward an understanding of the determinants of anger. Emotion, 4(2), 107–130. Scholar
  8. Blain-Arcaro, C., & Vaillancourt, T. (2017). Longitudinal associations between depression and aggression in children and adolescents. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 45(5), 959–970. Scholar
  9. Bolger, N., & Laurenceau, J. P. (2013). Intensive longitudinal methods: An introduction to diary and experience sampling research. New York: Guilford.Google Scholar
  10. Calvete, E., & Orue, I. (2012). Social information processing as a mediator between cognitive schemas and aggressive behavior in adolescents. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 40(1), 105–117. Scholar
  11. Card, N. A., & Little, T. D. (2006). Proactive and reactive aggression in childhood and adolescence: A meta-analysis of differential relations with psychosocial adjustment. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 30(5), 466–480. Scholar
  12. Cohn, M. D., Veltman, D. J., Pape, L. E., van Lith, K., Vermeiren, R. R. J. M., van den Brink, W., Doreleijers, T. A. H., & Popma, A. (2015). Incentive processing in persistent disruptive behavior and psychopathic traits: A functional magnetic resonance imaging study in adolescents. Biological Psychiatry, 78(9), 615–624. Scholar
  13. Dadds, M. R., Perry, Y., Hawes, D. J., Merz, S., Riddell, A. C., Haines, D. J., et al. (2006). Attention to the eyes and fear-recognition deficits in child psychopathy. The British Journal of Psychiatry, 189(3), 280–281. Scholar
  14. Dane, A. V., & Marini, Z. A. (2014). Overt and relational forms of reactive aggression in adolescents: Relations with temperamental reactivity and self-regulation. Personality and Individual Differences, 60, 60–66. Scholar
  15. Day, D. M., Bream, L. A., & Pal, A. (1992). Proactive and reactive aggression: An analysis of subtypes based on teacher perceptions. Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology, 21(3), 210–217. Scholar
  16. Dodge, K. A. (1991). The structure and function of reactive and proactive aggression. In D. J. Pepler & K. H. Rubin (Eds.), The development and treatment of childhood aggression (pp. 201–218). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.Google Scholar
  17. Dodge, K. A., Lochman, J. E., Harnish, J. D., Bates, J. E., & Pettit, G. S. (1997). Reactive and proactive aggression in school children and psychiatrically impaired chronically assaultive youth. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 106(1), 37–51. Scholar
  18. Evans, S. C., & Fite, P. J. (2018). Dual pathways from reactive aggression to depressive symptoms in children: Further examination of the failure model. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 47(1), 85–97. Scholar
  19. Feilhauer, J., Cima, M., Korebrits, A., & Kunert, H. J. (2012). Differential associations between psychopathy dimensions, types of aggression, and response inhibition. Aggressive Behavior, 38(1), 77–88. Scholar
  20. Fite, P. J., Poquiz, J., Frazer, A. L., & Reiter, N. (2017). Further evaluation of associations between reactive and proactive aggression and suicidal behavior in a treatment seeking sample of youth. Child Psychiatry and Human Development, 48(6), 903–910. Scholar
  21. Fite, P. J., Rubens, S. L., Preddy, T. M., Raine, A., & Pardini, D. A. (2014). Reactive/proactive aggression and the development of internalizing problems in males: The moderating effect of parent and peer relationships. Aggressive Behavior, 40(1), 69–78. Scholar
  22. Frick, P. J., Ray, J. V., Thornton, L. C., & Kahn, R. E. (2014). Annual research review: A developmental psychopathology approach to understanding callous-unemotional traits in children and adolescents with serious conduct problems. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 55(6), 532–548. Scholar
  23. Fung, A. L., Gerstein, L. H., Chan, Y., & Engebretson, J. (2015). Relationship of aggression to anxiety, depression, anger, and empathy in Hong Kong. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 24(3), 821–831. Scholar
  24. Fung, M. T., Raine, A., Loeber, R., Lynam, D. R., Steinhauer, S. R., Venables, P. H., & Stouthamer-Loeber, M. (2005). Reduced electrodermal activity in psychopathy-prone adolescents. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 114(2), 187–196. Scholar
  25. Hartley, C. M., Pettit, J. W., & Castellanos, D. (2018). Reactive aggression and suicide-related behaviors in children and adolescents: A review and preliminary meta-analysis. Suicide and Life-threatening Behavior, 48(1), 38–51. Scholar
  26. Hubbard, J. A., McAuliffe, M. D., Morrow, M. T., & Romano, L. J. (2010). Reactive and proactive aggression in childhood and adolescence: Precursors, outcomes, processes, experiences, and measurement. Journal of Personality, 78(1), 95–118. Scholar
  27. Hubbard, J. A., Smithmyer, C. M., Ramsden, S. R., Parker, E. H., Flanagan, K. D., Dearing, K. F., Relyea, N., & Simons, R. F. (2002). Observational, physiological, and self–report measures of children’s anger: Relations to reactive versus proactive aggression. Child Development, 73(4), 1101–1118. Scholar
  28. Huebner, E. S., & Dew, T. (1995). Preliminary validation of the positive and negative affect schedule with adolescents. Journal of Psychoeducational Assessment, 13(3), 286–293. Scholar
  29. Hwang, S., Nolan, Z. T., White, S. F., Williams, W. C., Sinclair, S., & Blair, R. J. R. (2016). Dual neurocircuitry dysfunctions in disruptive behavior disorders: Emotional responding and response inhibition. Psychological Medicine, 46(7), 1485–1496. Scholar
  30. Jambon, M., Colasante, T., Peplak, J., & Malti, T. (2018). Anger, sympathy, and children’s reactive and proactive aggression: Testing a differential correlate hypothesis. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology.
  31. Kimonis, E. R., Frick, P. J., Fazekas, H., & Loney, B. R. (2006). Psychopathy, aggression, and the processing of emotional stimuli in non-referred girls and boys. Behavioral Sciences & the Law, 24(1), 21–37. Scholar
  32. Laurent, J., Catanzaro, S. J., Joiner, T. E., Jr., Rudolph, K. D., Potter, K. I., Lambert, S., et al. (1999). A measure of positive and negative affect for children: Scale development and preliminary validation. Psychological Assessment, 11(3), 326–338. Scholar
  33. Lee, K. S., Brittain, H., & Vaillancourt, T. (2017). Predicting dating behavior from aggression and self-perceived social status in adolescence. Aggressive Behavior, 44, 372–381. Scholar
  34. Li, Y. I., Starr, L. R., & Hershenberg, R. (2017). Responses to positive affect in daily life: Positive rumination and dampening moderate the association between daily events and depressive symptoms. Journal of Psychopathology and Behavioral Assessment, 39(7), 1–14. Scholar
  35. Little, T. D., Brauner, J., Jones, S. M., Nock, M. K., & Hawley, P. H. (2003a). Rethinking aggression: A typological examination of the functions of aggression. Merrill-Palmer Quarterly, 49(3), 343–369. Scholar
  36. Little, T., Henrich, C., Jones, S., & Hawley, P. (2003b). Disentangling the" whys" from the" whats" of aggressive behaviour. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 27(2), 122–133. Scholar
  37. Longua, J., DeHart, T., Tennen, H., & Armeli, S. (2009). Personality moderates the interaction between positive and negative daily events predicting negative affect and stress. Journal of Research in Personality, 43(4), 547–555. Scholar
  38. Lorber, M. F. (2004). Psychophysiology of aggression, psychopathy, and conduct problems: A meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 130(4), 531–552. Scholar
  39. Lozier, L. M., Cardinale, E. M., VanMeter, J. W., & Marsh, A. A. (2014). Mediation of the relationship between callous-unemotional traits and proactive aggression by amygdala response to fear among children with conduct problems. JAMA Psychiatry, 71(6), 627–636. Scholar
  40. Marsh, A. A., & Blair, R. J. R. (2008). Deficits in facial affect recognition among antisocial populations: A meta-analysis. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, 32(3), 454–465. Scholar
  41. Merz, E. L., & Roesch, S. C. (2011). Modeling trait and state variation using multilevel factor analysis with PANAS daily diary data. Journal of Research in Personality, 45(1), 2–9. Scholar
  42. Moore, C. C., Hubbard, J., Morrow, M. T., Barhight, L. R., Lines, M. M., Sallee, M., & Hyde, C. T. (2018). The simultaneous assessment of and relations between children's sympathetic and parasympathetic psychophysiology and their reactive and proactive aggression. Aggressive Behavior, 44, 614–623. Scholar
  43. Orobio de Castro, B., Merk, W., Koops, W., Veerman, J. W., & Bosch, J. D. (2005). Emotions in social information processing and their relations with reactive and proactive aggression in referred aggressive boys. Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology, 34(1), 105–116. Scholar
  44. Ostrov, J. M., Murray-Close, D., Godleski, S. A., & Hart, E. J. (2013). Prospective associations between forms and functions of aggression and social and affective processes during early childhood. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 116(1), 19–36. Scholar
  45. Petersen, A. C., Crockett, L., Richards, M., & Boxer, A. (1988). A self-report measure of pubertal status: Reliability, validity, and initial norms. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 17(2), 117–133. Scholar
  46. Pond, R. S., Jr., Kashdan, T. B., DeWall, C. N., Savostyanova, A., Lambert, N. M., & Fincham, F. D. (2012). Emotion differentiation moderates aggressive tendencies in angry people: A daily diary analysis. Emotion, 12(2), 326–337. Scholar
  47. Portnoy, J., Raine, A., Chen, F. R., Pardini, D., Loeber, R., & Jennings, J. R. (2014). Heart rate and antisocial behavior: The mediating role of impulsive sensation seeking. Criminology, 52(2), 292–311. Scholar
  48. Powell, N. P., Boxmeyer, C. L., Baden, R., Stromeyer, S., Minney, J. A., Mushtaq, A., & Lochman, J. E. (2011). Assessing and treating aggression and conduct problems in schools: Implications from the coping power program. Psychology in the Schools, 48(3), 233–242. Scholar
  49. Raine, A. (2002). Annotation: The role of prefrontal deficits, low autonomic arousal, and early health factors in the development of antisocial and aggressive behavior in children. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 43(4), 417–434. Scholar
  50. Raine, A., Fung, A. L. C., Portnoy, J., Choy, O., & Spring, V. L. (2014). Low heart rate as a risk factor for child and adolescent proactive aggressive and impulsive psychopathic behavior. Aggressive Behavior, 40(4), 290–299. Scholar
  51. Ramirez, J. M., & Andreu, J. M. (2006). Aggression, and some related psychological constructs (anger, hostility, and impulsivity). Some comments from a research project. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 30(3), 276–291. Scholar
  52. Rathert, J., Fite, P. J., Gaertner, A. E., & Vitulano, M. (2011). Associations between effortful control, psychological control, and proactive and reactive aggression. Child Psychiatry and Human Development, 42(5), 609–621. Scholar
  53. Salmivalli, C., Ojanen, T., Haanpää, J., & Peets, K. (2005). " I'm OK but you're not" and other peer-relational schemas: Explaining individual differences in children's social goals. Developmental Psychology, 41(2), 363–375. Scholar
  54. Scarpa, A., Haden, S. C., & Tanaka, A. (2010). Being hot-tempered: Autonomic, emotional, and behavioral distinctions between childhood reactive and proactive aggression. Biological Psychology, 84(3), 488–496. Scholar
  55. Scarpa, A., & Raine, A. (2000). Violence associated with anger and impulsivity. In J. C. Borod (Ed.), The neuropsychology of emotion (pp. 320–339). New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  56. Shorey, R. C., Stuart, G. L., McNulty, J. K., & Moore, T. M. (2014). Acute alcohol use temporally increases the odds of male perpetrated dating violence: A 90-day diary analysis. Addictive Behaviors, 39(1), 365–368. Scholar
  57. Sijtsema, J. J., Veenstra, R., Lindenberg, S., van Roon, A. M., Verhulst, F. C., Ormel, J., & Riese, H. (2010). Mediation of sensation seeking and behavioral inhibition on the relationship between heart rate and antisocial behavior: The TRAILS study. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 49(5), 493–502. Scholar
  58. Silk, J. S., Forbes, E. E., Whalen, D. J., Jakubcak, J. L., Thompson, W. K., Ryan, N. D., Axelson, D. A., Birmaher, B., & Dahl, R. E. (2011). Daily emotional dynamics in depressed youth: A cell phone ecological momentary assessment study. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 110(2), 241–257. Scholar
  59. Silk, J. S., Steinberg, L., & Morris, A. S. (2003). Adolescents' emotion regulation in daily life: Links to depressive symptoms and problem behavior. Child Development, 74(6), 1869–1880. Scholar
  60. Smithmyer, C. M., Hubbard, J. A., & Simons, R. F. (2000). Proactive and reactive aggression in delinquent adolescents: Relations to aggression outcome expectancies. Journal of Clinical Child Psychology, 29(1), 86–93. Scholar
  61. Stadler, C., Poustka, F., & Sterzer, P. (2010). The heterogeneity of disruptive behavior disorders–implications for neurobiological research and treatment. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 1(21), 1–14. Scholar
  62. Tan, P. Z., Forbes, E. E., Dahl, R. E., Ryan, N. D., Siegle, G. J., Ladouceur, C. D., & Silk, J. S. (2012). Emotional reactivity and regulation in anxious and nonanxious youth: A cell-phone ecological momentary assessment study. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 53(2), 197–206. Scholar
  63. Taubitz, L. E., Pedersen, W. S., & Larson, C. L. (2015). Bas reward responsiveness: A unique predictor of positive psychological functioning. Personality and Individual Differences, 80, 107–112. Scholar
  64. Thomson, N. D., & Centifanti, L. C. M. (2018). Proactive and reactive aggression subgroups in typically developing children: The role of executive functioning, psychophysiology, and psychopathy. Child Psychiatry and Human Development, 49(2), 197–208. Scholar
  65. Thornton, L. C., Frick, P. J., Crapanzano, A. M., & Terranova, A. M. (2013). The incremental utility of callous-unemotional traits and conduct problems in predicting aggression and bullying in a community sample of boys and girls. Psychological Assessment, 25(2), 366–378. Scholar
  66. Viding, E., Sebastian, C. L., Dadds, M. R., Lockwood, P. L., Cecil, C. A. M., DeBrito, S. A., & McCrory, E. J. (2012). Amygdala response to preattentive masked fear in children with conduct problems: The role of callous-unemotional traits. The American Journal of Psychiatry, 169(10), 1109–1116. Scholar
  67. Vitaro, F., Barker, E. D., Boivin, M., Brendgen, M., & Tremblay, R. E. (2006a). Do early difficult temperament and harsh parenting differentially predict reactive and proactive aggression? Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 34(5), 681–691. Scholar
  68. Vitaro, F., Brendgen, M., & Barker, E. D. (2006b). Subtypes of aggressive behaviors: A developmental perspective. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 30(1), 12–19. Scholar
  69. Xu, Y., Farver, J. A. M., & Zhang, Z. (2009). Temperament, harsh and indulgent parenting, and Chinese children’s proactive and reactive aggression. Child Development, 80(1), 244–258. Scholar
  70. Xu, Y., Raine, A., Yu, L., & Krieg, A. (2014). Resting heart rate, vagal tone, and reactive and proactive aggression in Chinese children. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 42(3), 501–514. Scholar
  71. Yaros, A., Lochman, J. E., Rosenbaum, J., & Jimenez-Camargo, L. A. (2014). Real-time hostile attribution measurement and aggression in children. Aggressive Behavior, 40(5), 409–420. Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of DelawareDelawareUSA

Personalised recommendations