Childhood aggression and the co-occurrence of behavioural and emotional problems: results across ages 3–16 years from multiple raters in six cohorts in the EU-ACTION project

Meike Bartels*, Anne Hendriks, Matteo Mauri, Eva Krapohl, Alyce Whipp, Koen Bolhuis, Lucia Colodro Conde, Justin Luningham, Hill Fung Ip, Fiona Hagenbeek, Peter Roetman, Raluca Gatej, Audri Lamers, Michel Nivard, Jenny van Dongen, Yi Lu, Christel Middeldorp, Toos van Beijsterveldt, Robert Vermeiren, Thomas HankemeijerCees Kluft, Sarah Medland, Sebastian Lundström, Richard Rose, Lea Pulkkinen, Eero Vuoksimaa, Tellervo Korhonen, Nicholas G. Martin, Gitta Lubke, Catrin Finkenauer, Vassilios Fanos, Henning Tiemeier, Paul Lichtenstein, Robert Plomin, Jaakko Kaprio, Dorret I. Boomsma

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticle

Abstract

Childhood aggression and its resulting consequences inflict a huge burden on affected children, their relatives, teachers, peers and society as a whole. Aggression during childhood rarely occurs in isolation and is correlated with other symptoms of childhood psychopathology. In this paper, we aim to describe and improve the understanding of the co-occurrence of aggression with other forms of childhood psychopathology. We focus on the co-occurrence of aggression and other childhood behavioural and emotional problems, including other externalising problems, attention problems and anxiety–depression. The data were brought together within the EU-ACTION (Aggression in Children: unravelling gene-environment interplay to inform Treatment and InterventiON strategies) project. We analysed the co-occurrence of aggression and other childhood behavioural and emotional problems as a function of the child’s age (ages 3 through 16 years), gender, the person rating the behaviour (father, mother or self) and assessment instrument. The data came from six large population-based European cohort studies from the Netherlands (2x), the UK, Finland and Sweden (2x). Multiple assessment instruments, including the Child Behaviour Checklist (CBCL), the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) and Multidimensional Peer Nomination Inventory (MPNI), were used. There was a good representation of boys and girls in each age category, with data for 30,523 3- to 4-year-olds (49.5% boys), 20,958 5- to 6-year-olds (49.6% boys), 18,291 7- to 8-year-olds (49.0% boys), 27,218 9- to 10-year-olds (49.4% boys), 18,543 12- to 13-year-olds (48.9% boys) and 10,088 15- to 16-year-olds (46.6% boys). We replicated the well-established gender differences in average aggression scores at most ages for parental ratings. The gender differences decreased with age and were not present for self-reports. Aggression co-occurred with the majority of other behavioural and social problems, from both externalising and internalising domains. At each age, the co-occurrence was particularly prevalent for aggression and oppositional and ADHD-related problems, with correlations of around 0.5 in general. Aggression also showed substantial associations with anxiety–depression and other internalizing symptoms (correlations around 0.4). Co-occurrence for self-reported problems was somewhat higher than for parental reports, but we found neither rater differences, nor differences across assessment instruments in co-occurrence patterns. There were large similarities in co-occurrence patterns across the different European countries. Finally, co-occurrence was generally stable across age and sex, and if any change was observed, it indicated stronger correlations when children grew older. We present an online tool to visualise these associations as a function of rater, gender, instrument and cohort. In addition, we present a description of the full EU-ACTION projects, its first results and the future perspectives.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1105-1121
Number of pages17
JournalEuropean Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
Volume27
Issue number9
Early online date29 May 2018
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2018

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Keywords

  • Aggression
  • Behavioural and emotional problems
  • Childhood
  • Co-occurence
  • Comorbidity

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