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Move Over Mean Girls -- Boys Can Be Socially Aggressive, Too

Date:
September 18, 2008
Source:
Society for Research in Child Development
Summary:
A new analysis contradicts the notion that "social" aggression, such as spreading rumors, is a female and not male form of aggression. The researchers analyzed 148 studies of social and physical aggression, encompassing 74,000 children and adolescents. Children who carry out one form of aggression (social or physical) were inclined to carry out the other form. Social aggression is related to delinquency and ADHD-type symptoms, while physical aggression is related to depression and low self-esteem.

Society holds that when it comes to aggression, boys hit and punch, while girls spread rumors, gossip, and intentionally exclude others, a type of aggression that's called indirect, relational, or social. Now a new analysis of almost 150 studies of aggression in children and adolescents has found that while it's true that boys are more likely to engage in physical aggression, girls and boys alike take part in social aggression.

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"These conclusions challenge the popular misconception that indirect aggression is a female form of aggression," according to Noel A. Card, assistant professor of family studies and human development at the University of Arizona and the study's lead author.

The analysis of 148 studies, which comprised almost 74,000 children and adolescents and were carried out largely in schools, looked at both direct aggression, which is usually defined as physical, and indirect aggression, which includes covert behavior designed to damage another individual's social standing in his or her peer group. Conducted by Card and researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the University of Kansas, the analysis appears in the September/October 2008 issue of the journal Child Development.

The researchers suggest that the myth that girls are more likely to be indirectly or socially aggressive than boys has persisted among teachers, parents, and even other researchers because of social expectations that develop early in life and recent movies and books that portray girls as mean and socially aggressive toward one another.

Based on the analysis, the researchers suggest that children who carry out one form of aggression may be inclined to carry out the other form; this is seen more in boys than in girls. They also found ties between both forms of aggression and adjustment problems. Specifically, direct aggression is related to problems like delinquency and ADHD-type symptoms, poor relationships with peers, and low prosocial behavior such as helping and sharing. In contrast, indirect aggression is related to problems like depression and low self-esteem, as well as higher prosocial behavior—perhaps because a child must use prosocial skills to encourage peers to exclude or gossip about others.

The study was funded, in part, by the National Institute of Health.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Society for Research in Child Development. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Card et al. Direct and Indirect Aggression During Childhood and Adolescence: A Meta-Analytic Review of Gender Differences, Intercorrelations, and Relations to Maladjustment. Child Development, 2008; 79 (5): 1185 DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-8624.2008.01184.x

Cite This Page:

Society for Research in Child Development. "Move Over Mean Girls -- Boys Can Be Socially Aggressive, Too." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 18 September 2008. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/09/080916100934.htm>.
Society for Research in Child Development. (2008, September 18). Move Over Mean Girls -- Boys Can Be Socially Aggressive, Too. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 27, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/09/080916100934.htm
Society for Research in Child Development. "Move Over Mean Girls -- Boys Can Be Socially Aggressive, Too." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/09/080916100934.htm (accessed March 27, 2015).

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