University of Montreal study: Aggressive behavior in toddlers may have genetic link

22 Jan

Moi wrote in Study: Consumption of soft drinks may be linked to aggression in children
The Center for Sport Policy and Conduct (Sport Center) at Indiana University, Bloomington has excellent capsule definitions of violence, aggression, and deviance According to the Sport Center violence is defined as:

Violence can be seen as a form of physical assault based on an intent to injure another person or destroy the property of others. To continue this definition, “violence in sport violates the norms and rules of the contest, threatens lives and property, and usually cannot be anticipated by the persons affected” (Smith, 1983, p. 6). http://www.indiana.edu/~cspc/violence.htm

Aggression is defined as:

Aggression can be generally defined as all behavior intended to destroy another person’s property or to injure another person, physically or psychologically. It has been reported that action has to violate norms and rules shared by society in order to be defined as aggressive. Several experiments (Tedeschi, Gaes, & Rivera, 1977) found that a protagonist who intends to cause injury is only judged by witnesses to be aggressive when his behavior is also judged to be antinormative; in other words, when they are opposing the social rules that apply to that particular situation. Judgment is the same when the action or “intent to injure” constitutes a response to a previous provocation. If, however, the action exceeds the preceding deed, the revenge is viewed as excessive and judged as inappropriate and aggressive.

Deviance is defined as “Deviant behavior is usually that which departs from the norm; anything that goes against the accepted societal standards could be classified as such.”

Leo J. Bastiaens, MD and Ida K. Bastiaens wrote an excellent article about youth aggression in the Psychiatric Times. One part of the article looked at the economic impact.

Before taking into account the costs of juvenile justice programs and institutions, youth violence alone costs the United States more than $158 billion each year….
US cities lose nearly $50 billion a year because of crime and violence….Reallocation of resources, new social spending initiatives, programs with a higher quality of care, and a better public health perspective would change the lives of our youths and cut the social cost of juvenile crime in the United States. http://www.psychiatrictimes.com/display/article/10168/51911?verify=0

What is Aggressive Behavior?

Dr. Dianne S. O’Connor lists the following causes of aggressive behavior in children

• Genetic and/or temperamental influences.
• Insecure or disorganized attachment patterns.
• Ongoing and unrelieved stress.
• Lack of appropriate problem solving and coping strategies.
• Limited experience with role models (e.g. peers, family members, TV. & computer games) who value and provide examples of non-aggressive behaviors.
• Ineffective parenting style: for example, authoritarian, controlling, harsh or coercive parenting style; permissive, overindulgent parenting style; rejecting parenting style; psychological problems in the parent such as depression or alcoholism.
• Poor fit between parent and child: Ineffective parenting could be an effect rather than a cause of the child’s behavior. Children’s problem behaviors may affect parents’ moods and parenting behaviors.
• Family stress, disruption and conflict. http://www.solutionsforchildproblems.com/aggressive-behavior-children.html

There are certain family and social risk factors which should alert educators and social workers that an early intervention may be needed.

Physorg.Com reported about an University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill study which cites early neglect as a predictor of aggressive behavior in children.

Early child neglect may be as important as child abuse for predicting aggressive behavior, researchers say. Neglect accounts for nearly two-thirds of all child maltreatment cases reported in the United States each year, according to the Administration for Children and Families. http://phys.org/news126764603.html
According to Joan Arehart-Treichel’s article in Psychiatric News, aggression comes in four types. She writes about a study project conducted by He was Henri Parens, M.D., a professor of psychiatry at Jefferson Medical College and a training and supervising analyst at the Psychoanalytic Center of Philadelphia. “Parens and his colleagues not only met with 10 socioeconomically disadvantaged mothers and their 16 infants twice a week over seven years, but have been following up with the mothers and their offspring ever since.” According to Arehart –Treichel, the four types of aggression are
One was a nondestructive aggression, the kind the 5-month-oldgirl had demonstrated. It is children’s attempt to master themselves and their environment. “This is a magnificent kind of aggression,”Parens said. It represents the kind that drives youngsters toexcel academically, win at sports, climb mountains, and do fantastic things with their lives. It is inborn and essential for survivaland adaptation. It is the kind of aggression that parents should cultivate.
A second kind of aggression is the urge to obtain food. It toois inborn and essential for survival and adaptation.
A third kind of aggression is displeasure-related aggression(say, a temper tantrum or a rage reaction), and a fourth kindof aggression is pleasure-related aggression (for example, teasingand taunting). Neither is inborn; both are hostile aggression,and both are activated by emotional pain. In other words, hurtinga person’s feelings can generate hostile aggression. That istrue for all people. In contrast, people whose feelings arenot hurt will probably not engage in hostile aggression.

According to Parens’ observations a good deal of the aggression behavior observed in the children in the study was related to how their parents treated them.

Aggressive Behavior in Boys

PBS has a good description of aggression in boys and what characteristics are normal and not necessarily cause for concern.

Why do boys become aggressive? Sometimes boys are aggressive because they are frustrated or because they want to win. Sometimes they are just angry and can’t find another way to express that feeling. And some may behave aggressively, but they’re not aggressive all the time.
An active boy is not necessarily an aggressive one. “We often see young boys playing out aggressive themes. It’s only a problem when it gets out of control,” comments Thompson.
Competition, power and success are the true stuff of boys’ play. Many young boys see things in competitive terms and play games like “I can make my marble roll faster than yours,” “my tower is taller than yours” and “I can run faster than you.” But these games of power and dominance are not necessarily aggressive unless they are intended to hurt.
Fantasy play is not aggressive. A common boy fantasy about killing bad guys and saving the world is just as normal as a common girl fantasy about tucking in animals and putting them to bed. “Most boys will pick up a pretzel and pretend to shoot with it,” comments teacher Jane Katch. “If a boy is playing a game about super heroes, you might see it as violent. But the way he sees it, he’s making the world safe from the bad guys. This is normal and doesn’t indicate that anything is wrong unless he repeatedly hurts or tries to dominate the friends he plays with. And sometimes an act that feels aggressive to one child was actually intended to be a playful action by the child who did it. When this happens in my class, we talk about it, so one child can understand that another child’s experience may be different than his own. This is the way empathy develops.”
Only a small percentage of boys’ behavior is truly aggressive. While “all boys have normal aggressive impulses which they learn to control, only a small percentage are overly aggressive and have chronic difficulty controlling those impulses,” says Michael Thompson, Ph.D. These are the boys who truly confuse fantasy with reality, and frequently hit, punch, and bully other kids. They have a lack of impulse control and cannot stop themselves from acting out. “They cannot contain their anger and have little control over their physical behavior and this is when intervention by parent or teacher is needed,” says Thompson. http://www.pbs.org/parents/raisingboys/aggression02.html

The key point is a lot of behavior, which is normal activity for most boys is not unacceptable aggression and should not trigger the use of medication for behavior which is within the normal range.

A University of Chicago examined boys who exhibited abnormal aggression and found that there might be a physical cause.

Unusually aggressive youth may actually enjoy inflicting pain on others, research using brain scans at the University of Chicago shows.
Scans of the aggressive youth’s brains showed that an area that is associated with rewards was highlighted when the youth watched a video clip of someone inflicting pain on another person. Youth without the unusually aggressive behavior did not have that response, the study showed.
The results are reported in the paper “Atypical Empathetic Responses in Adolescents with Aggressive Conduct Disorder: A functional MRI Investigation” in the current issue of the journal Biological Psychology. Benjamin Lahey, the Irving B. Harris Professor of Epidemiology and Psychiatry at the University, co-authored the paper, along with University students Kalina Michalska and Yuko Akitsuki. The National Science Foundation supported the work.
In the study, researchers compared eight 16- to 18-year-old boys with aggressive conduct disorder to a control group of adolescent boys with no unusual signs of aggression. The boys with the conduct disorder had exhibited disruptive behavior such as starting a fight, using a weapon and stealing after confronting a victim.

Clearly, the youth in this study were not the typical boy and required intervention.

Generally, boys are thought to be more physically aggressive and girls are thought to be more socially or indirectly aggressive. Carolyn Willbert reports on a study at WebMD, which finds boys use indirect methods of aggression as well.

Girls often get a bad rap for gossiping, forming cliques, and other aggressive social behavior, as characterized in the popular movie Mean Girls. Boys, meanwhile, are known for physically aggressive behavior, such as hitting.

One study, however, says these attitudes may be at least partly unfounded. While boys are indeed more physically aggressive, girls and boys are equally guilty of aggressive social behavior, according to the report published in Child Development.

Researchers did an analysis of 148 studies that included nearly 74,000 children and teenagers. The studies were mostly done in schools and looked both at direct aggression, which is physical or verbal, and indirect aggression, which includes covert behaviors designed to damage another person’s social relations with others, without direct confrontation.
“These conclusions challenge the popular misconception that indirect aggression is a female form of aggression,” says Noel A. Card, PhD, assistant professor of family studies and human development at the University of Arizona and the study’s lead author, in a news release.
Based on the analysis, researchers concluded that often the same kids who are directly aggressive are also indirectly aggressive. Although boys tend to exhibit more direct aggression than girls, there is little difference between girls and boys for indirect aggression. This continues over different ages and ethnicities….
Kids who are indirectly aggressive often have depression and lower self-esteem. However, they tend to have high pro-social behavior, necessary to get support of others such as convincing peers to gossip and exclude others http://news.uchicago.edu/images/pdf/081107.Decety_BiologicalPsy2008.pdf

Behavior is unacceptable when it is “intended to destroy another person’s property or to injure another person, physically or psychologically.” Purposeful harm to another person is never acceptable.
Aggressive Behavior in Girls

Dr. Nicki Crick, of the University of Minnesota has studied aggression in girls. Her work in the field of relationalship aggression is summarized:

Most studies about aggressive behavior in children have focused on boys and on physical expressions of aggression. “It gave the appearance that girls really were sugar and spice and everything nice,” says Nicki Crick, professor of child development. “But I didn’t believe that was really the case.”
For more than six years, Crick has been conducting longitudinal studies of relational aggression, witnessed mainly in girls. Rather than physically harming others, relationally aggressive children will threaten such retaliations as: “Do this or I won’t be your friend.” Or: “If you don’t help me, I’ll tell Amy you said she was ugly….”
What the research shows
Some of Crick’s early research findings show relational aggression is related to factors such as particular types of family relationships and relationships with friends and other peers. She is especially interested in children whose aggression is gender-atypical—that is, girls who are physically aggressive and boys who are relationally aggressive.
“These kids seem to be the most at-risk for more serious social problems later in life,” she says. “The most apparent reason is that not only does their aggressive behavior make them less popular, but the fact that they’re perceived by their peers as acting inappropriately for their gender further isolates them.”

https://drwilda.com/2013/08/17/study-consumption-of-soft-drinks-may-be-linked-to-aggression-in-children/

Science Daily reported about a University of Montreal study which examined genetic influences on aggressive behavior.

In Toddlers’ Aggression Strongly Associated With Genetic Factors Science Daily reported:

The development of physical aggression in toddlers is strongly associated with genetic factors and to a lesser degree with the environment, according to a new study led by Eric Lacourse of the University of Montreal and its affiliated CHU Sainte-Justine Hospital. Lacourse’s worked with the parents of identical and non-identical twins to evaluate and compare their behavior, environment and genetics.
“The gene-environment analyses revealed that early genetic factors were pervasive in accounting for developmental trends, explaining most of the stability and change in physical aggression, ” Lacourse said. “However, it should be emphasized that these genetic associations do not imply that the early trajectories of physical aggression are set and unchangeable. Genetic factors can always interact with other factors from the environment in the causal chain explaining any behavior….”
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/01/140120192437.htm#.Ut37JzikSXQ.email

Citation:

Journal Reference:
1. Eric Lacourse, PhD, Michel Boivin, PhD, Mara Brendgen, PhD, Amélie Petitclerc, PhD, Alain Girard, MSc, Frank Vitaro, PhD, Stéphane Paquin, PhD candidate, Isabelle Ouellet-Morin, PhD, Ginette Dionne, PhD and Richard E. Tremblay, PhD. A longitudinal twin study of physical aggression during early childhood: Evidence for a developmentally dynamic genome. Psychological Medicine, January 2014
Behavior Modification

The American Academy of Pediatricians has the following suggestions for dealing with aggressive behavior for most children

The best way to prevent aggressive behavior is to give your child a stable, secure home life with firm, loving discipline and full-time supervision during the toddler and preschool years. …
Self control
Your youngster has little natural self-control. He needs you to teach him not to kick, hit, or bite when he is angry, but instead to express his feelings through words. It’s important for him to learn the difference between real and imagined insults and between appropriately standing up for his rights and attacking out of anger.
Supervision
The best way to teach these lessons is to supervise your child carefully when he’s involved in disputes with his playmates. …
Your example
To avoid or minimize “high-risk” situations, teach your child ways to deal with his anger without resorting to aggressive behavior. Teach him to say “no” in a firm tone of voice, to turn his back, or to find compromises instead of fighting with his body. …
Discipline
If you must discipline him, do not feel guilty about it and certainly don’t apologize. If he senses your mixed feelings, he may convince himself that he was in the right all along and you are the “bad” one…
When to call the pediatrician
If your child seems to be unusually aggressive for longer than a few weeks, and you cannot cope with his behavior on your own, consult your pediatrician. Other warning signs include:
• Physical injury to himself or others (teeth marks, bruises, head injuries)
• Attacks on you or other adults
• Being sent home or barred from play by neighbors or school
• Your own fear for the safety of those around him….
The pediatrician or other mental health specialist will interview both you and your child and may observe your youngster in different situations (home, preschool, with adults and other children). A behavior management program will be outlined. Not all methods work on all children, so there will be a certain amount of trial and reassessment

Here is the press release from the University of Montreal:

Jan 20 at 8:55 PM
1/20/14

in French.
MONTREAL, January 21, 2014 – The development of physical aggression in toddlers is strongly associated genetic factors and to a lesser degree with the environment, according to a new study led by Eric Lacourse of the University of Montreal and its affiliated CHU Sainte-Justine Hospital. Lacourse’s worked with the parents of identical and non-identical twins to evaluate and compare their behaviour, environment and genetics.
“The gene-environment analyses revealed that early genetic factors were pervasive in accounting for developmental trends, explaining most of the stability and change in physical aggression, ” Lacourse said. “However, it should be emphasized that these genetic associations do not imply that the early trajectories of physical aggression are set and unchangeable. Genetic factors can always interact with other factors from the environment in the causal chain explaining any behaviour.”
Over the past 25 years, research on early development of physical aggression has been highly influenced by social learning theories that suggest the onset and development of physical aggression is mainly determined by accumulated exposure to aggressive role models in the social environment and the media. However, the results of studies on early childhood physical aggression indicate that physical aggression starts during infancy and peaks between the ages of 2 and 4. Although for most children the use of physical aggression initiated by the University of Montreal team peaks during early childhood, these studies also show that there are substantial differences in both frequency at onset and rate of change of physical aggression due to the interplay of genetic and environmental factors over time. Genetically informed studies of disruptive behavior and different forms of aggression across the lifespan generally conclude that genetic factors account for approximately 50% of the variance in the population.
Lacourse and his colleagues posited and tested three general patterns regarding the developmental roles of genetic and environmental factors in physical aggression. First, the most consensual and general point of view is that both sources of influence are ubiquitous and involved in the stability of physical aggression. Second, a “genetic set point” model suggests a single set of genetic factors could account for the level of physical aggression across time. A third pattern labeled ‘genetic maturation’ postulates new sources of genetic and environmental influences with age. “According to the genetic maturation hypothesis, new environmental contributions to physical aggression could be of short duration in contrast to genetic factors,” Lacourse explained.
About the twins cohort
This twin study was initiated by Michel Boivin of Laval University and Richard Tremblay, who is also affiliated with the University of Montreal and University College Dublin. All parents of twins born between April 1995 and December 1998 in the Greater Montreal area (Canada) were invited to participate, which resulted in the participation of 667 monozygotic and dizygotic twin pairs. Monozygotic means the twins originated from the same embryo they are genetically identical. Dizogytic means they developed in separate embryos, meaning they are not identical.
Mothers were ask to rate their twins physical aggression, by reporting behaviour such as hitting, biting, kicking and fighting, at the ages of 20, 32 and 50 months. “The results of the gene-environment analyses provided some support for the genetic set-point hypotheses, but mostly for the genetic maturation hypotheses,” Lacourse said. “Genetic factors always explained a substantial part of individual differences in physical aggression. More generally, the limited role of shared environmental factors in physical aggression clashes with the results of studies of singletons in which many family or parent level factors were found to predict developmental trajectories of physical aggression during preschool.” Our results suggest that the effect of those factors may not be as direct as was previously though.
Long-term studies of physical aggression clearly show that most children, adolescent and adults eventually learn to use alternatives to physical aggression. “Because early childhood propensities may evoke negative responses from parents and peers, and consequently create contexts where the use of physical aggression is maintained and reinforced, early physical aggression needs to be dealt with care,” Lacourse said. “These cycles of aggression between children and siblings or parents, as well as between children and their peers, could support the development of chronic physical aggression.” We are presently exploring the impact of these gene and social environment interactions.

Contact: Julie Gazaille
j.cordeau-gazaille@umontreal.ca
514-343-6796
University of Montreal
Source:Eurekalert

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One Response to “University of Montreal study: Aggressive behavior in toddlers may have genetic link”

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  1. [Press release] World’s Dangerous Neighborhoods Produce Aggressive Children « Health and Medical News and Resources - January 23, 2014

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