Social-information-processing factors in reactive and proactive aggression in children's peer groups

J Pers Soc Psychol. 1987 Dec;53(6):1146-58. doi: 10.1037//0022-3514.53.6.1146.


We examined social-information-processing mechanisms (e.g., hostile attributional biases and intention-cue detection deficits) in chronic reactive and proactive aggressive behavior in children's peer groups. In Study 1, a teacher-rating instrument was developed to assess these behaviors in elementary school children (N = 259). Reactive and proactive scales were found to be internally consistent, and factor analyses partially supported convergent and discriminant validities. In Study 2, behavioral correlates of these forms of aggression were examined through assessments by peers (N = 339). Both types of aggression related to social rejection, but only proactively aggressive boys were also viewed as leaders and as having a sense of humor. In Study 3, we hypothesized that reactive aggression (but not proactive aggression) would occur as a function of hostile attributional biases and intention-cue detection deficits. Four groups of socially rejected boys (reactive aggressive, proactive aggressive, reactive-proactive aggressive, and nonaggressive) and a group of average boys were presented with a series of hypothetical videorecorded vignettes depicting provocations by peers and were asked to interpret the intentions of the provocateur (N = 117). Only the two reactive-aggressive groups displayed biases and deficits in interpretations. In Study 4, attributional biases and deficits were found to be positively correlated with the rate of reactive aggression (but not proactive aggression) displayed in free play with peers (N = 127). These studies supported the hypothesis that attributional biases and deficits are related to reactive aggression but not to proactive aggression.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Aggression / psychology*
  • Child
  • Female
  • Hostility
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations*
  • Male
  • Peer Group*
  • Rejection, Psychology
  • Set, Psychology
  • Social Adjustment*
  • Social Perception