* Within the youth population, behavioral patterns involving aggression, acting out, and conduct problems represent the highest referral rates for mental health services (Achenbach & Howell, 1993; Frick & Silverthorn, 2001). A recent study found that among U.S. boys aged 9 to 12 years, about 6.1% displayed conduct problems (Mojtabai, 2006).
Aggression is determined by a complex interplay of risk and protective factors within the realms of family factors, parenting factors, school factors, peer factors, neighborhood factors, and child factors (Loeber & Farrington, 2000; Hinshaw & Lee, 2003). A useful context in which to study aggressive behavior is the contextual social-cognitive model (e.g., Lochman & Wells, 1996, 2002). Some important child-level factors within this model include schemas, emotion (especially anger), difficulties with regulating anger, impulsivity, and deficits in processing social information. This model as well as other recent research and conceptualizations of aggressive behavior encourage the integration of emotional, behavioral, and cognitive components (e.g., Lemerise & Arsenio, 2000). This study will attempt to examine how emotion and cognition combine to predict aggression.
Even when focusing on an individual child's characteristics, there are different pathways to aggressive behavior and complex interrelationships among intraindividual variables (e.g., psychobiological, neuropsychological, cognitive, emotional, social information processing; Hinshaw & Lee, 2003). This article will focus on variables within two possible pathways to aggressive behavior at the child level. One pathway can be thought of as emotional, impulsive, and automatic processing (Poulin and Boivin 1999; Dodge, Lochman, Harnish, Bates, & Pettit, 1997; Lemerise & Arsenio, 2000). A different pathway to aggressive behavior involves more controlled cognitive processing including mechanisms such as consciously activated schemas (Lemerise & Arsenio, 2000; Zelli, Dodge, Lochman, Laird, & Conduct Problems Prevention Research Group, 1999).
Although they are presented separately, the pathways to aggression likely interact. Although the cognitive/schema pathway includes more controlled processing, this processing is still affected by more automatic processes such as emotions. These two pathways can be conceptualized as distinct yet transactional processes leading to aggressive behavior (Lemerise & Arsenio, 2000).
Children enter interactions with biological predispositions and a database that includes memories, schemas, and other social knowledge. Social knowledge and schemas, especially beliefs about aggression (e.g., beliefs that aggression is an appropriate response in a situation), are important factors in describing and predicting aggressive behavior. Schemas can operate on both an automatic, nonconscious pathway and on a controlled, conscious pathway (e.g., Huesmann, 1998; Crick & Dodge, 1994). However, this study will examine only a consciously activated schema.
Conscious schemas and beliefs about aggression directly affect children's online social information processing within an interaction (Zelli et al., 1999). An individual's schemas include generalized expectations about themselves and others and can form the basis for perceptions of current events (De Rubeis & Beck, 1988). Aggressive boys tend to base their perceptions of their own aggressive behavior on prior expectations more than nonaggressive boys do (Lochman & Dodge, 1998). For aggressive children, schemas and beliefs in turn negatively affect children's social information processing and conscious decision making within an interaction, which leads to an aggressive response (Crick & Dodge, 1994).
One specific type of schema that may be an important influence within the social information-processing and contextual social-cognitive models is locus of control (Lochman & Wells, 2002). …