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Keywords:

  • Fear conditioning;
  • child;
  • development;
  • aggression;
  • electrodermal

Background:  Poor fear conditioning characterizes adult psychopathy and criminality, but it is not known whether it is related to aggressive/antisocial behavior in early childhood.

Methods:  Using a differential, partial reinforcement conditioning paradigm, electrodermal activity was recorded from 200 male and female children at ages 3, 4, 5, 6, and 8 years. Antisocial/aggressive and hyperactive-inattentive measures were collected at age 8.

Results:  Poor electrodermal fear conditioning from ages 3 to 8 years was associated with aggressive behavior at age 8 in both males and females.

Conclusions:  Results indicate that the relationship between poor fear conditioning and aggression occurs early in childhood. Enhanced electrodermal fear conditioning may protect children against future aggressive/violent behavior. Abnormal amygdala functioning, as indirectly assessed by fear conditioning, may be one of the factors influencing the development of childhood aggression.