Reduced electrodermal fear conditioning from ages 3 to 8 years is associated with aggressive behaviour at age 8 years. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 51, 550-558

Department of Criminology, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA 19104-6286, USA.
Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry (Impact Factor: 6.46). 09/2009; 51(5):550-8. DOI: 10.1111/j.1469-7610.2009.02176.x
Source: PubMed


Poor fear conditioning characterizes adult psychopathy and criminality, but it is not known whether it is related to aggressive/antisocial behavior in early childhood.
Using a differential, partial reinforcement conditioning paradigm, electrodermal activity was recorded from 200 male and female children at ages 3, 4, 5, 6, and 8 years. Antisocial/aggressive and hyperactive-inattentive measures were collected at age 8.
Poor electrodermal fear conditioning from ages 3 to 8 years was associated with aggressive behavior at age 8 in both males and females.
Results indicate that the relationship between poor fear conditioning and aggression occurs early in childhood. Enhanced electrodermal fear conditioning may protect children against future aggressive/violent behavior. Abnormal amygdala functioning, as indirectly assessed by fear conditioning, may be one of the factors influencing the development of childhood aggression.


Available from: Michael E Dawson, Dec 27, 2013
  • Source
    • "2012 ) . Our results also dovetail with findings linking reduced amygdala activation to aggressive behavior ( Mathiak & Weber , 2006 ) and with findings linking hyporesponsiveness of fear conditioning circuitry ( insula , an - terior cingulate cortex , and amygdala ) to callous – unemo - tional traits , conduct disorder , and antisocial behavior ( Gao et al . , 2010 ; Shirtcliff et al . , 2009 ) . Consistent with this , Blair , Leibenluft , and Pine ( 2014 ) point to " deficient empa - thy " as one of the key neurocognitive dysfunctions appearing in youth with callous – unemotional traits , with reduced amyg - dala responding to facial emotions as one potential pathway . It is notable that our find"
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: Youth exposed to family aggression may become more aggressive themselves, but the mechanisms of intergenerational transmission are understudied. In a longitudinal study, we found that adolescents' reduced neural activation when rating their parents' emotions, assessed via magnetic resonance imaging, mediated the association between parents' past aggression and adolescents' subsequent aggressive behavior toward parents. A subsample of 21 youth, drawn from the larger study, underwent magnetic resonance imaging scanning proximate to the second of two assessments of the family environment. At Time 1 (when youth were on average 15.51 years old) we measured parents' aggressive marital and parent-child conflict behaviors, and at Time 2 (≈2 years later), we measured youth aggression directed toward parents. Youth from more aggressive families showed relatively less activation to parent stimuli in brain areas associated with salience and socioemotional processing, including the insula and limbic structures. Activation patterns in these same areas were also associated with youths' subsequent parent-directed aggression. The association between parents' aggression and youths' subsequent parent-directed aggression was statistically mediated by signal change coefficients in the insula, right amygdala, thalamus, and putamen. These signal change coefficients were also positively associated with scores on a mentalizing measure. Hypoarousal of the emotional brain to family stimuli may support the intergenerational transmission of family aggression.
    Development and Psychopathology 06/2015; -1:1-12. DOI:10.1017/S0954579415000528 · 4.89 Impact Factor
    • "In a prospective study, fear conditioning using electrodermal responsivity was assessed in children at ages 3, 4, 5, 6, and 8. It was shown that poor fear conditioning from ages 3 to 8 years is associated with aggression at age 8 (Gao et al., 2010a). Furthermore , it appeared that poor fear conditioning at age 3 predisposes an individual to crime at age 23 (Gao et al., 2010b). "
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: This review discusses neurobiological studies of oppositional defiant disorder and conduct disorder within the conceptual framework of three interrelated mental domains: punishment processing, reward processing, and cognitive control. First, impaired fear conditioning, reduced cortisol reactivity to stress, amygdala hyporeactivity to negative stimuli, and altered serotonin and noradrenaline neurotransmission suggest low punishment sensitivity, which may compromise the ability of children and adolescents to make associations between inappropriate behaviors and forthcoming punishments. Second, sympathetic nervous system hyporeactivity to incentives, low basal heart rate associated with sensation seeking, orbitofrontal cortex hyporeactiviy to reward, and altered dopamine functioning suggest a hyposensitivity to reward. The associated unpleasant emotional state may make children and adolescents prone to sensation-seeking behavior such as rule breaking, delinquency, and substance abuse. Third, impairments in executive functions, especially when motivational factors are involved, as well as structural deficits and impaired functioning of the paralimbic system encompassing the orbitofrontal and cingulate cortex, suggest impaired cognitive control over emotional behavior. In the discussion we argue that more insight into the neurobiology of oppositional defiance disorder and conduct disorder may be obtained by studying these disorders separately and by paying attention to the heterogeneity of symptoms within each disorder.
    Development and Psychopathology 07/2012; 25(1):1-15. DOI:10.1017/S0954579412000272 · 4.89 Impact Factor
  • Source
    • "In a prospective study, fear conditioning using electrodermal responsivity was assessed in children at ages 3, 4, 5, 6, and 8. It was shown that poor fear conditioning from ages 3–8 years is associated with aggression at age 8 (Gao et al. 2010a). Furthermore , it appeared that poor fear conditioning at age 3 predisposes to crime at age 23 (Gao et al. 2010b). "
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: In this review, a conceptualization of oppositional defiant (ODD) and conduct disorder (CD) is presented according to which social learning processes in these disorders are affected by neurocognitive dysfunctions. Neurobiological studies in ODD and CD suggest that the ability to make associations between behaviors and negative and positive consequences is compromised in children and adolescents with these disorders due to reduced sensitivity to punishment and to reward. As a result, both learning of appropriate behavior and learning to refrain from inappropriate behavior may be affected. Likewise, problem solving is impaired due to deficiencies in inhibition, attention, cognitive flexibility, and decision making. Consequently, children and adolescents with ODD and CD may have difficulty learning to optimize their behavior in changeable environments. This conceptualization of ODD and CD is relevant for the improvement of the effect of psychological treatments. Behavioral and cognitive-behavioral interventions that have been shown to be modestly effective in ODD and CD are based on social learning. Limited effectiveness of these interventions may be caused by difficulties in social learning in children and adolescents with ODD and CD. However, although these impairments have been observed at a group level, the deficits in reward processing, punishment processing, and cognitive control mentioned above may not be present to the same extent in each individual with ODD and CD. Therefore, the neurocognitive characteristics in children and adolescents with ODD and CD should be assessed individually. Thus, instead of delivering interventions in a standardized way, these programs may benefit from an individualized approach that depends on the weaknesses and strengths of the neurocognitive characteristics of the child and the adolescent.
    Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review 07/2012; 15(3):234-46. DOI:10.1007/s10567-012-0118-7 · 4.75 Impact Factor
Show more