All children are aggressive at one time or another; however, a small group of children display pervasive and unremitting levels of aggression. Children who display high levels of aggression are at risk for a number of negative outcomes such as school failure, drug use, and delinquency. Interventions to reduce aggressive behavior are often instituted at a young age, as nipping this behavior in the bud can prevent children from developing persistent conduct problems later in life.
In the past decade, much research has been conducted on the effectiveness of interventions with children. These studies find that school-based interventions can be effective, but that the level of benefit seen often varies with children’s age, gender, or ethnicity. Studying factors that influence (or moderate) the effect of an intervention is beneficial because it determines for whom each treatment works best. Past intervention studies have typically focused on the type of moderators listed above (i.e., age, gender etc.), however new research on the development of behavior problems is suggesting that certain personality traits may place children at greater risk for developing and maintaining their aggressive behavior. Based on this past research, the authors of this current article were interested in whether children’s personality traits (i.e., extraversion, benevolence, conscientiousness, emotional stability, and imagination) would influence the degree to which they benefitted from interventions for aggression.
Teachers from 48 elementary schools in the Netherlands identified children with high levels of externalizing behaviors. The children received care as usual (control condition) or the Stay Cool Kids intervention. The Stay Cool Kids program consisted of eight weekly one-on-one sessions, each lasting 45 minutes. Training was provided by staff from youth mental healthcare centers and focused on creating a less negative self-perception, creating a more accurate representation of ambiguous situations, managing anger, and generating less aggressive responses to provocation. The children were assessed for aggression prior to the intervention, immediately after the intervention, and at a six-month follow-up.
The intervention reduced aggressive behavior in children with high levels of conscientiousness, and in children with low levels of extraversion. No reduction in aggressiveness was seen for children with low levels of conscientiousness or high levels of extraversion. The authors posit that the intervention works better with high conscientious and low extraversion children because their aggression may result from a reaction to life stressors as opposed to low conscientious and high extraversion children whose aggression may be more personality-related. These results suggest that low conscientious and high extraversion children may need a more intensive individualized treatment than children with other personality types.
This study is one of the first to include personality as a moderator in an effectiveness study that used a randomized control design. The findings are promising because they show that school-based interventions can reduce aggressive behavior in children, and because they highlight the importance of considering child personality when researching and applying interventions for aggressive behavior.
Stoltz,S., Prinzie, P., De Haan, A., van Londen, M., Orobio De Castro, M., Deković, M. (2013). Child personality as moderator of outcome in a school-based intervention for preventing externalising behaviour European Journal of Personality, 27, 271-279