The Aggression Solution

The following is a summary of an article by Dr. Cynthia Hudley that originally appeared in Neurobiology of Aggression: Understanding and Preventing Violence, edited by M. Mattson (2003).

Cognitive-Behavioral Intervention for Childhood Aggression

The Problem Children who display high levels of aggression are a significant problem in schools, families, and Hudley and her colleagues developed a 12-lesson program that teaches aggressive children to recognize that many negative actions of others are accidental and therefore not deserving of an aggressive response. communities. One of the most troubling factors about aggressive childhood behavior is that it often predicts antisocial and criminal behavior in adolescence and adulthood. Therefore, there is a need to reduce aggressive behavior in childhood. The Study Cynthia Hudley of the Gevirtz Graduate School of Education with several colleagues has developed, implemented, and studied the BrainPower program, an intervention curriculum aimed at preventing aggression for elementary school students. Research shows that highly aggressive children often incorrectly assume that actions of their peers are deliberately hostile, leading the aggressive children to judge aggressive responses as appropriate social behavior. Therefore, Hudley and her colleagues developed a 12-lesson program that teaches aggressive children to recognize that many negative actions of others are accidental and therefore not deserving of an aggressive response. The participants typically receive 60-minute BrainPower lessons twice a week for six weeks, in groups of six students, with two leaders. The groups consist of four excessively aggressive and two average non-aggressive students. The group leaders use coaching and modeling in their instruction. The Results The BrainPower program has been successful in three separate evaluation studies. The first test of the program included 108 aggressive and non-aggressive male students. They were randomly assigned to three groups: the BrainPower intervention group, a placebo curriculum group, and a no-treatment control group. Attributions of hostile intent to others, reported anger, and endorsement of hostile behaviors declined significantly only for the boys who participated in the intervention group. Aggressive boys in the intervention group were also rated by their teachers as significantly less aggressive following the intervention, but changes in teachers’ ratings were not significant for the placebo or control groups. The program was then evaluated with a large group of boys in a longitudinal design incorporating follow-up assessments 12 months beyond the end of the program. A total of 384 boys in grades 4-6 from four schools were randomly assigned to the same three groups. Again, judgments of hostile intent, self-reported anger, and endorsements of aggressive behavior declined significantly for the BrainPower intervention group and remained lower than the placebo or control groups at a 12-month follow-up. The program was finally evaluated using a longitudinal design as part of a comprehensive youth development program, the 4-H Afterschool Program, in public housing projects. The intervention group that received the program consisted of 46 4-H boys and girls. The control group was 41 students of the same age living in the same public housing projects and attending the same schools but not in the enriched 4-H program. Findings showed inappropriate perceptions of hostile intent declined steadily for both boys and girls in the program. Girls’ scores in the control group were similar to the 4-H group, but comparison boys’ scores increased. Teacher ratings of behavior for both boys and girls in 4-H improved over time. Parents’ ratings of their children’s behavior also improved for 4-H students but not for the comparison group students. What This Study Means The serious problem of overly aggressive tendencies in children can be reduced with cognitive-behavioral interventions. The BrainPower program has a strong track record of being able to reduce aggressive tendencies in children. For further information see the BrainPower Program website at

Dr. Cynthia Hudley is a professor in the Gevirtz Graduate School of Eduation.

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