A Longitudinal Study of Forms and Functions of Aggressive Behavior in Early Childhood


  • We thank the University at Buffalo Social Development Laboratory for their assistance with the collection and coding of the data. Special thanks to Stephanie A. Godleski, Kirstin Stauffacher Grös, Jamie L. Guzzo, and Emily E. Ries for assistance with the coordination of the study. We thank the Fisher Price Endowed UB Early Childhood Research Center for their participation and we thank the families, teachers and directors of all schools for their assistance. Thanks to Keith Burt for comments on a previous draft.

concerning this article should be addressed to Dianna Murray-Close, 234 John Dewey Hall, Department of Psychology, University of Vermont, Burlington, VT 05405. Electronic mail may be sent to dianna.murray-close@uvm.edu.


The purpose of this study was to investigate the distinct forms (i.e., physical and relational) and functions (i.e., proactive and reactive) of aggressive behavior during early childhood (= 101; M age = 45.09 months). Forms, but not functions, of aggressive behavior were stable over time. A number of contributors to aggression were associated with distinct subtypes of aggressive behavior. Females and socially dominant children were more relationally aggressive and older children were less physically aggressive than their peers. Longitudinal analyses indicated that social dominance predicted decreases in physical aggression and peer exclusion predicted increases in relational aggression. Overall, the results provide support for the distinction between subtypes of aggression in early childhood.