Individual and Contextual Social Factors Affect Social Decision-Making and Risk Behaviors such as Substance use and Aggression - Paper Symposium: Social Information Processing Links Executive Functions and Aggressive Behavior in Adolescents with Intellectual Disabilities

Maaike van Rest, Maroesjka van Nieuwenhuijzen, Marleen H.M. de Moor, Aart Vriens, Carlo Schuengel, Walter Matthys

Research output: Contribution to ConferencePaperAcademic


Externalizing problems, such as aggression and hyperactive/impulsive behavior, are elevated among youth with impaired executive functions (EFs) (e.g., Ogilvie et al, 2011). One explanation is that impaired EFs lead to externalizing problems through deviant social cognition. The relevance of EF in explaining externalizing problems has been called into question, however (Van Lieshout e.a., 2013). Therefore, the current aim was to investigate the associations of EFs with social cognitive processes as these relate to aggressive behavior. Social information processing (SIP) is well-established as a factor in aggression in the typical population (Dodge et al., 2015) and in youth with Mild to Borderline Intellectual Disability (MBID with IQ 50-84, Schalock et al., 2010; Van Nieuwenhuijzen et al., 2009). Youth with MBID are at high risk for aggression and social problems. EF impairments may partially account for this association. Recent studies evidenced relations between EFs and SIP in adolescents with MBID (Van Nieuwenhuijzen et al., 2017). We therefore hypothesized that associations between EFs and aggression are statistically mediated by SIP. Specifically, we expected that the linkage between focused attention, inhibition, and working memory and aggression be would partially accounted for by SIP in adolescents with MBID.
The study included 153 adolescents (13-17y; M=15.24; 54.2% male). The adolescents had a MBID, with IQ ranging from 50-84 measured by Wechsler intelligence scales (1949, 1955). Three EFs, focused attention, inhibition, and working memory were assessed digitally with neurocognitive performance tasks. Per EF, three or four parameters were used to create latent variables. SIP was assessed by a custom-developed digital test with a semi-structured interview on six videos of social situations, measuring encoding, hostile interpretations, and generation of and self-efficacy for aggressive responses. A latent variable for aggression was constructed from CBCL, TRF, and YSR reports (Achenbach, 1991, 2001). Structural Equation Modeling analyses were performed.
Three mediation models were examined, including the direct and indirect effects of the three EFs via SIP responses towards aggression. Factor loadings and path coefficients of the models are presented in Figure 1. The association between focused attention and aggression was statistically mediated by SIP responses, with a good model fit (CFI=.962; TLI=.935; RMSEA=.048; SRMR=.051; χ2(26)=35.341, p=.105). The direct effect between inhibition and aggression was significant (β= .238, p=.005), and there was no indirect effect via SIP (CFI=.921; TLI=.879; RMSEA=.053; SRMR=.065; χ2(36)=51.433, p=.046). The relation between working memory and aggression was mediated by SIP, with a good model fit (CFI=.979; TLI=.964; RMSEA=.036; SRMR=.041; χ2(26)=31.146, p=.223).
In adolescents with MBID, the associations between aggression and focused attention and working memory can be explained by deviant SIP. Behavioral inhibition was directly linked to aggression, with no involvement of SIP in this association. These findings have implications for the understanding of the development of aggression in vulnerable adolescents, and factors included in treatment for reducing aggression. Improving focused attention and working memory in combination with subsequent SIP cognitions may be tested as avenues to effective treatment of youth aggression problems.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 12 Apr 2018
EventSociety for Research on Adolescence: Biennial Meeting 2018 - Minneapolis Convention Center, Minneapolis, United States
Duration: 12 Apr 201815 Apr 2018


ConferenceSociety for Research on Adolescence: Biennial Meeting 2018
Abbreviated titleSRA 2018
CountryUnited States



  • Executive Function
  • Social Information Processing
  • Aggression
  • Social cognition

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