Autonomic conditioning to monetary and social stimuli and aggression in children

Yu Gao, Krystal Mendez, Xiaobo Li, Meng Cheng Wang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Poor conditioning to punishment, such as loud tones or electric shock, has been proposed as an important factor involved in the etiology of aggressive and psychopathic behavior. However, it is not known whether the association holds when monetary or social stimulus is used as the unconditioned stimulus, and if aggressive individuals also have impaired conditioning to rewards. In this study, skin conductance responses in a conditioning task involving both monetary/social reward and punishment as unconditioned stimuli were assessed in 340 male and female 8- to 9-year-old children from the community. Children reported their reactive and proactive aggression using the Reactive and Proactive Aggression Questionnaire (RPQ; Raine et al., 2006). Results showed that monetary/social reward and punishment were effective in eliciting physiological classical conditioning in children, and that reduced reward conditioning was associated with high levels of proactive aggression in particular. Findings highlight the importance of distinguishing between reactive and proactive aggression when examining antisocial behavior in children, and suggest that reward-oriented treatment programs may not be effective for children with more proactive, instrumental aggressive behavior.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)147-155
Number of pages9
JournalAggressive Behavior
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1 Mar 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • aggression
  • electrodermal
  • pavlovian conditioning
  • punishment
  • reward


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