The Personality Dispositions and Resting-state Neural Correlates Associated With Aggressive Children

Qingqing Li; Mingyue Xiao; Shiqing Song; Yufei Huang; Ximei Chen; Yong Liu; Hong Chen

Disclosures

Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci. 2020;15(9):1004-1016. 

In This Article

Results

Behavior

Table 1 lists the descriptive statistics and correlations of six dimensions of aggression and five personality-trait constructs. As shown in the table, the correlations indicate that agreeableness and neuroticism were significantly related to aggression. Notably, agreeableness was negatively correlated with anger (P < 0.01), hostility, total aggression and indirect aggression (ps < 0.05). The neuroticism trait was positively correlated with all dimensions of aggression (ps < 0.01). In addition, conscientiousness was negatively correlated with anger (P < 0.05).

Imaging

To reveal relationships between spontaneous brain activity and aggression, we correlated different types of aggression with the fALFF at each voxel in the brain. After adjusting for sex, age and FD, the results showed a network of activation primarily comprising the temporal, parietal and paralimbic areas (Table 2, Figure 1). In detail, anger was negatively related to the fALFF in the left STG (r = − 0.519, P < 0.0001), and indirect aggression was located in the SMG (r = − 0.528, P < 0.0001) extending into the post-central gyrus. The activation of physical aggression involved the parahippocampal gyrus (PHG) (r = − 0.483, P < 0.0001) extending into the temporal pole. Another cluster of physical aggression was found in the STG (r = − 0.682, P < 0.0001) extending into the insula. Verbal aggression was negatively related to activation in the left STG (r = − 0.55, P < 0.001). For total aggression, the activated region involved the STG (r = − 0.616, P < 0.0001) extending to the insula.

Figure 1.

Brain region linked with various types of aggression after adjusting for age, sex and FD. Total aggression was negatively associated with the fALFF in the left STG; physical aggression was negatively associated with the fALFF in the right PHG; indirect aggression was negatively associated with the fALFF in the left SMG.

Moreover, a further FC analysis employed the activation peaks determined in the correlation results as seed regions, with connectivity changes being calculated between all pairs of seed regions (Figure 2). With the right PHG as the seed region, decreased functional connectivity with the right putamen was found to be significantly associated with physical aggression (r = − 0.376, P < 0.001) and total aggression (r = − 0.404, P < 0.0001).

Figure 2.

Functional connectivity linked with total aggression after adjusting for age, sex and FD. Total aggression was negatively associated with the connectivity between the right PHG and right putamen.

Moderating Model Analyses

Here we examined whether right PHG-right putamen functional connectivity moderated the relationship between neuroticism and aggression. After controlling for sex and age, 5000 bootstrap simulations showed a significant main effect of neuroticism (F [5,71] = 7.17, P < 0.001) and an interaction effect of neuroticism × PHG-putamen connectivity (F [1,71] = 6.90, P < 0.05) on total aggression. Specifically, neuroticism showed a significant positive association with total aggression (B = 0.48, SE = 0.10, t = 4.94, P < 0.01, 95% CI = [0.29, 0.68]). The neuroticism × PHG-putamen connectivity interaction was a significant negative association on total aggression (B = − 0.26, SE = 0.10, t = − 2.63, P < 0.05, 95% CI = [−0.46, − 0.06]), which revealed a moderating effect of the right PHG-right putamen connectivity on the relationship between neuroticism and aggression. We then calculated the conditional direct effect based on the moderator values to further examine the moderating effect on neuroticism. The results showed in the Figure 3, for the group with low PHG-putamen connectivity (one s.d. below the mean), a significant positive relationship between neuroticism and total aggression (B = 0.75, SE = 0.13, t = 5.58, P < 0.01, 95% CI = [0.52, 1.10]). However, for the group with high PHG-putamen connectivity (one s.d. above the mean), this relationship was not significant (B = 0.22, SE = 0.15, t = 1.50, P > 0.05, 95% CI = [−0.07, 0.51]). These results suggested that the influence of neuroticism on aggression might be moderated by the rsFC of the right PHG-right putamen, such that weaker PHG-putamen connectivity was associated with higher aggression.

Figure 3.

The right PHG-putamen connectivity moderates the association between neuroticism and total aggression. FC, functional connectivity of the right PHG-putamen.

Group Analysis Based on Sex

Given the presence of sex differences in child aggression, we conducted further behavioral correlation and imaging analysis based on sex. The correlation results (Supplementary File Table 1, Table 2 and Table 3) showed that the associations between aggression and personality traits in boys and girls were consistent with the results for the whole group. After adjusting for age and FD, the results for girls showed that indirect aggression and total aggression were negatively related to the fALFF in the SMG (r = − 0.563 and − 0.632, ps < 0.0001) (Table 3, Figure 4). Moreover, a further rsFC analysis indicated that with the SMG as the seed region, decreased functional connectivity with the left STG was significantly associated with indirect aggression (r = − 0.602 and − 0.604, ps < 0.0001) (Figure 5).

Figure 4.

Brain region linked with aggression type after adjusting for age and FD. Total and indirect aggressions were negatively associated with the fALFF in the left SMG.

Figure 5.

Functional connectivity linked with aggression type after adjusting for age and FD. Total and indirect aggressions were negatively associated with the connectivity between the left SMG and right STG.

The results for boys showed that physical aggression was negatively related to the fALFF in the post-central (r = 0.657, P < 0.0001) and pre-central gyrus (r = 0.682, P < 0.0001) (Table 4, Figure 6). Moreover, a further rsFC analysis indicated that with the pre-central gyrus as the seed region, decreased functional connectivity with the left angular gyrus was significantly associated with physical aggression (r = − 0.627, P < 0.0001) (Figure 7).

Figure 6.

Brain region linked with aggression type after adjusting for age and FD. Physical aggression was negatively associated with the fALFF in the left pre-central gyrus and right post-central gyrus.

Figure 7.

Functional connectivity linked with aggression type after adjusting for age and FD. Physical aggression was negatively associated with the connectivity between the left pre-central gyrus and left angular gyrus.

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