Adolescent substance use can be best prevented by impacting both reactive and proactive aggression. The Mindful Coping Power (MCP) intervention was developed to enhance program effects on reactive aggression. Children who exhibit reactive aggression have a variety of self-regulatory deficits, including attentional, behavioral, cognitive, and emotional dysregulation. Mindfulness is the practice of bringing nonjudgmental awareness to the present moment. Studies indicate that mindfulness has positive effects on several of the self-regulatory functions associated with reactive aggression. To create MCP, mindfulness was integrated into CP in several ways: new sessions were added to teach about mindfulness, opening and closing mindfulness practices were added to every session, and standard CP activities were adapted to incorporate mindfulness (e.g., practice breath awareness before responding to peer conflict).
The comparative effects of CP and MCP are being examined in a randomized trial of 102 fifth grade students with high levels of reactive aggression. This presentation will examine whether MCP, as compared to CP, has an impact on children’s physiological stress reactivity. Analyses will also examine whether children’s baseline physiology moderates the effects of MCP on stress reactivity.
Given the dysregulation seen in children exhibiting reactive aggression, they may evidence difficulties in physiological responses to stress. Poorer physiological responses to stress are associated with difficulties in self-regulation, as well as externalizing behaviors. Physiologically, the autonomic nervous system consists of the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems (PNS; SNS). The SNS activates the body’s ‘fight or flight’ response, whereas the PNS decreases physiological arousal.
Data on children’s physiological stress reactivity were collected during the Iowa Gambling Task, which was designed to be a stressful, noxious stimuli that invokes frustration. Biomarkers of physiological stress reactivity collected pre- and post-intervention include respiratory sinus arrhythmia and skin conductance. Data have been collected and are being prepared for analysis.
This work underscores the importance of taking a biopsychosocial approach to understanding and addressing problem behavior in children.