Biological Correlates of Early Life Stress and Aggression in School Aged Children Open Access

Winiarski, D. Anne (2017)

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Although a plethora of research exists on the trajectories of aggression and deviancy from school age into adolescence, much less research exists on aggression earlier in childhood, and in particular, on the biological correlates of these behaviors. Even less is known about the role that callous-unemotional traits (characterized by low levels of empathy) and exposure to early life stress play in the emergence and persistence of aggression across childhood. In Study 1 of this dissertation, biosocial risk factors for aggression were examined in a sample of 119 mother-child dyads assessed during both child preschool age (ages 2.5 to 5) and school age (ages 5 to 10)--periods which are considered critical in a child's emotional development. Overall, the results of Study 1 suggested that ELS was related to measures of school age and early childhood persistent aggression, but that stress reactivity did not mediate these relationships. Associations between ELS and stress reactivity were stronger for females, whereas associations between stress reactivity and aggression were generally stronger for males. In addition, the ELS-aggression association was stronger for children with higher levels of callousness. Only physiological stress reactivity for males predicted to school-age aggression above and beyond caregiver reports of preschool aggression. Study 2 focused on a separate community sample of 20 children, ages 7-10 years of age, in which we examined neural (fMRI) correlates of early life stress and aggression. The results of Study 2 were similar to those of Study 1 in that, although ELS was not related to amygdala activity in the sample as a whole, there was a trend for ELS to relate to higher amygdala activity among females. There was also a statistical trend noted for an association between proactive aggression and reduced right amygdala activity in response to emotional stimuli for both males and females in the sample. General themes that emerge across Study 1 and Study 2, as well as clinical and future research implications are discussed.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

General Introduction 1

Study 1 Introduction 16

Study 1 Method 24

Study 1 Results 32

Study 1 Discussion 35

Study 2 Introduction 45

Study 2 Method 50

Study 2 Results 57

Study 2 Discussion 57

General Discussion 63

References 73

Tables 98

Figures 106

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