Baseline autonomic nervous system arousal and physical and relational aggression in preschool: The moderating role of effortful control

Amy L Gower, Nicki R. Crick

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


The current study investigates whether established associations between physical aggression and low autonomic nervous system arousal, as indexed by heart rate and blood pressure, also apply to the study of the development of relational aggression. Baseline heart rate and blood pressure were collected in two samples of preschoolers, and teachers reported on classroom physical and relational aggression. In Study 1, lower systolic and diastolic blood pressure were related to increased engagement in relational aggression among older preschoolers. In Study 2, lower heart rate and blood pressure predicted increased engagement in classroom physical and relational aggression concurrently and across a preschool year in some cases. Low baseline arousal-aggression associations were strongest for children with poorer self-regulation abilities, whereas high self-regulation appeared to protect children with low heart rate and blood pressure from engagement in aggressive classroom behavior. These findings suggest the utility of examining baseline physiological measures in the study of relational aggression as well as physical aggression. Implications for interventions targeted to physical and relational aggression in early childhood are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)142-151
Number of pages10
JournalInternational Journal of Psychophysiology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2011

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Funding in the form of a Graduate Research Fellowship to the first author from the National Science foundation provided tuition and a stipend for graduate work; however NSF had no involvement in conceptualizing or carrying out this study and was not involved in the writing of this manuscript.

Funding Information:
This research was partially funded by a Graduate Research Fellowship from the National Science Foundation to the first author. Preparation of this manuscript was supported in part by a Dissertation Fellowship from the University of Minnesota to the first author. The authors gratefully thank the participating family, teachers, and preschools for their involvement in this study.

Copyright 2012 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Blood pressure
  • Early childhood
  • Effortful control
  • Heart rate
  • Physical aggression
  • Relational aggression


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