Development and Psychopathology


Aggression as an equifinal outcome of distinct neurocognitive and neuroaffective processes

Lisa M. Gatzke-Koppa1 c1, Mark T. Greenberga1, Christine K. Fortunatoa1 and Michael A. Cocciaa1

a1 Pennsylvania State University


Early onset aggression precipitates a cascade of risk factors, increasing the probability of a range of externalizing and internalizing psychopathological outcomes. Unfortunately, decades of research on the etiological contributions to the manifestation of aggression have failed to yield identification of any risk factors determined to be either necessary or sufficient, likely attributable to etiological heterogeneity within the construct of aggression. Differential pathways of etiological risk are not easily discerned at the behavioral or self-report level, particularly in young children, requiring multilevel analysis of risk pathways. This study focuses on three domains of risk to examine the heterogeneity in 207 urban kindergarten children with high levels of aggression: cognitive processing, socioemotional competence and emotion processing, and family context. The results indicate that 90% of children in the high aggression group could be characterized as either low in verbal ability or high in physiological arousal (resting skin conductance). Children characterized as low verbal, high arousal, or both differed in social and emotional competence, physiological reactivity to emotion, and aspects of family-based contextual risk. The implications of this etiologic heterogeneity of aggression are discussed in terms of assessment and treatment.

(Online publication July 11 2012)


c1 Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Lisa M. Gatzke-Kopp, Department of Human Development and Family Studies, 110 South Henderson, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA 16802; E-mail:


Funding for this research was provided by the Pennsylvania Department of Health and the Social Science Research Institute at Pennsylvania State University. The authors acknowledge Michelle Jetha and Sidney Segalowitz for their expertise and contributions to technical aspects of recording and processing the EEG data. We also thank Cynthia Willner, David DuPuis, Heather Wadlinger, and Liza Oakes for their contributions to data processing, as well as Jennifer Ford for her exceptional project management in the face of flat tires, broken windshields, leaking sunroofs, and other pitfalls of conducting research in an RV.