Predicting aggression in adolescence: The interrelation between (a lack of) empathy and social goals

Babette C.M. van Hazebroek*, Tjeert Olthof, Frits A. Goossens

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


In an attempt to explain the inconsistent findings and overall weak relation between empathy and aggression, we focused on the role of emotional empathy (emotions of concern, compassion or sympathy toward a (potential) victim), agentic goals (the desire to be dominant during social interaction with peers) and their interplay (mediation or moderation) in the prediction of proactive aggression (learned instrumental behavior) in adolescence. Data were collected from 550 young Dutch adolescents, who filled out multiple questionnaires. Findings showed that the link between a lack of empathic concern and proactive aggression is partly mediated and moderated by agentic goals. The moderation analyses showed that the predictive value of a lack of empathic concern with regard to proactive aggression was greater when adolescents reported a stronger desire to be dominant in social situations with peers. In addition, the findings supported the assumption that the relation between empathic concern and reactive aggression (a hostile and angry response to perceived provocation) is not mediated or moderated by agentic goals. Findings were discussed in terms of their implications for future research. Aggr. Behav. 43:204–214, 2017.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)204-214
Number of pages11
JournalAggressive Behavior
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2017


  • agentic goals
  • empathy
  • proactive aggression
  • reactive aggression


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