Past research has shown links between both children's aggressive behaviour and a lack of prosocial behaviour to later maladaptation. Both types of behaviours have also been identified as crucial in children's social and emotional development and later (mal)adaptation. However, little is known about the way they predict each other over time.
We utilised a large, ethnically diverse, longitudinal population sample of girls and boys (N = 1,334) to examine the bidirectional cross-lagged links between aggressive and prosocial domains of behaviour from age seven to eleven. Teacher, parent and child self-reports were utilised to assess aggressive behaviour and prosocial behaviour.
The results revealed that aggressive behaviour measured one year predicted decreases in prosocial behaviour in the following year. Conversely, prosocial behaviour did not predict changes in aggressive behaviour in the subsequent year. Furthermore, peer difficulties were examined and found to be an important mediator of the link between aggressive and prosocial behaviour. Specifically, peer difficulties mediated the links between aggressive behaviour and prosocial behaviour one year later, particularly during the first three years of school attendance.
Implications of the findings for the design of intervention strategies to reduce children's aggressive behaviour are discussed.