Developmental Origins of Aggression

Developmental Origins of Aggression

Developmental Origins of Aggression

Developmental Origins of Aggression


While aggression is often conceived as a learned behavior that peaks during adolescence, this important volume shows that aggressive behaviors have their origins in early childhood and even infancy. Findings from major longitudinal research programs are used to illuminate the processes by which most children learn alternatives to physical aggression as they grow older, while a minority become increasingly violent. The developmental trajectories of proactive, reactive, and indirect aggression are reviewed, as are lessons learned from animal studies. Bringing together the best of current knowledge, the volume sheds new light on the interplay of biological factors, social and environmental influences, and sex differences in both adaptive and maladaptive aggression.


It has been over 30 years since the publication of a book giving a detailed overview of the state of knowledge on the developmental origins of aggressive behavior (de Wit & Hartup, 1974). Much has changed during this time. Most of the developmental work published in the 1974 book was based on crosssectional studies of small samples of school-age children. The focus of attention was on aggressive events and the situations that instigate them.

Over the past 30 years, investigators have conducted longitudinal studies of large samples of children assessed repeatedly from birth to adulthood. Results from these studies are telling unexpected stories. For example, children appear not to be learning to use physical aggression as they grow older; rather they appear to be learning not to use physical aggression. As expected, girls use physical aggression less often than boys from infancy to adolescence; however, they use another form of aggression (indirect aggression) more often than boys from early childhood to adulthood.

Such findings are clearly of interest for our general understanding of human nature. Philosophers have argued for centuries on the origins of antisocial behavior. Rousseau defended the thesis that humans are created good and become evil through the influence of society, and Hobbes argued that a wicked person was simply a child who had not grown up. In 1973, Albert Bandura wrote, “People are not born with preformed repertoires of aggressive behavior; they must learn them in one way or another” (p. 61).

The findings from research on the development of aggressive behavior are also extremely important for the prevention and treatment of violent behavior. Violence is still a serious problem in our modern societies. To help children learn alternatives to violent behavior, we need to understand the development of aggression and its alternatives. Every professional who works with children and adolescents needs to understand the developmental origins of aggression.

Technological progress over the past 30 years has enabled investigators to combine longitudinal studies of large samples of children over their lifespans with molecular assessments of their genetic material and assessments of . . .

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