Are Proactive and Reactive Aggression Meaningful Distinctions in Adolescents? A Variable- and Person-Based Approach

K. C. Smeets, S. Oostermeijer, M. Lappenschaar, M. Cohn, J. M.J. van der Meer, A. Popma, L. M.C. Jansen, N. N.J. Rommelse, F. E. Scheepers, J. K. Buitelaar

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This study was designed to examine whether proactive and reactive aggression are meaningful distinctions at the variable- and person-based level, and to determine their associated behavioral profiles. Data from 587 adolescents (mean age 15.6; 71.6 % male) from clinical samples of four different sites with differing levels of aggression problems were analyzed. A multi-level Latent Class Analysis (LCA) was conducted to identify classes of individuals (person-based) with similar aggression profiles based on factor scores (variable-based) of the Reactive Proactive Questionnaire (RPQ) scored by self-report. Associations were examined between aggression factors and classes, and externalizing and internalizing problem behavior scales by parent report (CBCL) and self-report (YSR). Factor-analyses yielded a three factor solution: 1) proactive aggression, 2) reactive aggression due to internal frustration, and 3) reactive aggression due to external provocation. All three factors showed moderate to high correlations. Four classes were detected that mainly differed quantitatively (no ‘proactive-only’ class present), yet also qualitatively when age was taken into account, with reactive aggression becoming more severe with age in the highest affected class yet diminishing with age in the other classes. Findings were robust across the four samples. Multiple regression analyses showed that ‘reactive aggression due to internal frustration’ was the strongest predictor of YSR and CBCL internalizing problems. However, results showed moderate to high overlap between all three factors. Aggressive behavior can be distinguished psychometrically into three factors in a clinical sample, with some differential associations. However, the clinical relevance of these findings is challenged by the person-based analysis showing proactive and reactive aggression are mainly driven by aggression severity.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Abnormal Child Psychology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2017


  • Adolescents
  • Factor analysis
  • Latent class analysis
  • Proactive and reactive aggression

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