The link between witnessing aggressive behaviour as a child and carrying it out as an adult has always been known but the association has not been very clear.
Researchers from Indiana University's Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences wanted to find out what changes occur in a child that affect whether he or she will choose to deal with conflict in aggressive or violent ways.
According to them, children who grow up in aggressive households may learn to process social information differently than their peers who grow up in non-aggressive environments.
"Children with high-conflict parents are more likely to think that aggressive responses would be good ways to handle social conflicts," said John Bates, a professor of psychology in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences and a co-author of the study.
"This partly explains why they are more likely as young adults to have conflict in their own romantic relationships," he added.
According to the researchers, unlocking the developmental link between growing up in an aggressive or violent household and becoming the perpetrator of such behaviour could prove useful for stopping the cycle of violence.
The study appears in the June issue of the Journal of Family Psychology.