Executive cognitive functioning predicts reactive aggression in boys at high risk for substance abuse: a prospective study

Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 1996 Jun;20(4):740-4. doi: 10.1111/j.1530-0277.1996.tb01680.x.


This study assessed the ability of executive cognitive functioning (ECF) to predict reactive aggression in boys at high and low risk for substance abuse using a 2-year prospective design. ECF is defined as the self-regulation of goal-directed behavior. Reactive aggression involves impulsive hostile reactions committed with little forethought. ECF was measured using five neuropsychological tests in 198 10- to 12-year-old boys with (SA+) and without (SA-) a paternal history of substance abuse/dependence. Reactive aggression was measured, 2 years later, using a composite index of items derived from two self-report measures. It was hypothesized that ECF would predict reactive aggression, and that this relation would be stronger for the SA+ compared with the SA- boys. SA+ subjects demonstrated lower ECF scores and higher reactive aggression scores, compared with SA- controls. ECF predicted reactive aggression in the SA+ group (beta = 0.37, p = 0.001), but not in the SA- group (beta = 0.09, p = NS). This suggests that compromised ECF may be a risk factor for reactive aggression in SA+ youth. The hypothesis that the relation between ECF and reactive aggression is a manifestation of a mild dysfunction of the prefrontal cortex is discussed.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Aggression / psychology*
  • Alcoholism / genetics*
  • Alcoholism / psychology
  • Child
  • Child of Impaired Parents / psychology*
  • Cognition Disorders / genetics*
  • Cognition Disorders / psychology
  • Humans
  • Illicit Drugs*
  • Impulsive Behavior / genetics
  • Impulsive Behavior / psychology
  • Internal-External Control
  • Male
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Prospective Studies
  • Psychotropic Drugs*
  • Risk Factors
  • Social Behavior
  • Substance-Related Disorders / genetics*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / psychology


  • Illicit Drugs
  • Psychotropic Drugs