Infants who sweat less in response to scary situations at age 1 are more aggressive at age 3

Psychological scientist Stephanie van Goozen of Cardiff University and her colleagues have linked the lower levels of sweat measured in infants of 1 year old as a response to scary situations, with conduct disorder and aggressive behavior in children and adolescents. The explanation seems to be that a weaker fear response shows that the subjects are more likely to engage in antisocial behavior in the sweating and aggressivity

The objective of the study was to establish if the aggressive behaviors can be predicted in early infancy. Children involved in this study had recording electrodes attached to their feet at age 1. These electrodes were used to measure their skin conductance activity at rest (SCA), in response to loud noises, and after encountering a scary remote-controlled robot. Researchers also collected data on the aggressive behaviors of those children at age 3, as rated by their mothers. Information about 1 year old infants’ temperament was collected from their mothers, too.

The conclusion was that 1 year-old infants with lower SCA at rest and during the robot encounter were more physically and verbally aggressive at age 3. Another result of the study was that mothers’ reports of their infants’ temperament cannot predict the aggression from two years later. These findings suggest that while a physiological measure (SCA) taken in infancy predicts aggression, mothers’ observations do not.

Van Goozen concluded that “These findings show that it is possible to identify at-risk children long before problematic behavior is readily observable. Identifying precursors of disorder in the context of typical development can inform the implementation of effective prevention programs and ultimately reduce the psychological and economic costs of antisocial behavior to society.”


  • Association for Psychological Science. “Toddlers’ Aggressive Behavior May Be Predicted By Their Sweat Response In Infancy”, 25 Apr. 2013


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