Physical and Relational Aggression in Friend Dyads from Primary Italian Schools: Gender Differences and the Contribute of Socialization Processes

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ABSTRACT

This longitudinal study a) explored the similarity among children in primary school on physical and relational aggression in same-gender reciprocated friendship dyads and the socialization effects between the actor and the partner, and b) observed the presence of differences between female and male dyads. We identified 43 same-gender friend dyads and a comparison group of 69 same-gender non-friend dyads (50% female, aged 7 to 8 years [M=7.57; SD =0.32], who were reciprocal friends), from 5 schools located in Northern Italy. Actor-Partner Interdependence Model (APIM: Kashy & Kenny, 1999) was used to investigate friend similarity and socialization processes. Findings reveal: a) similarities between the two partners, especially in boys; b) no similarities in physical aggression but similarities in relational aggression in children who were friends compared to children who were not friends, especially for boys.

KEYWORDS: middle-childhood, friendship-dyad, similarity, physical and relational aggression, APIM

INTRODUCTION

Scholars interested in social relationships are increasingly focusing their analyses on dyads, the fundamental unit of interpersonal relations. Studying dyads allows researchers to investigate similarities between friends (i.e., homophily). Two processes may contribute to friend similarity: selection, based on pre-existing similarities, according to which people tend to choose friends similar to them, and socialization, based on participation in a friendship, defined as the tendency of people who are tied to become similar because of reciprocal influence (Lazarsfeld & Merton, 1954). People involved in close and intimate relationships are interdependent; the characteristics and behaviors of one partner may affect those of the other partner (Kelley & Thibaut, 1978). Thus, focusing on the dyad, as unit of analysis, researchers can investigate homophily as well as differentiate between socialization and selection; the similarity of behavior is more relevant than the similarity of attitudes and personality (Kandel, 1978).

Until recently, scholars have addressed interest mainly in adolescent dyads (Adam, Bukowski, & Bagwell, 2005). Due to the little research in middle childhood, we chose to explore the dyadic dimension in school-age children for the following reasons. First, research suggests that similarity between friends is visible from middle childhood and encompasses factors such as age, gender, ethnicity, and behavior (Hartup, 1993, 2000). Second, around 7-8 years old children move from a concrete idea of friendship, based on temporarily sharing activities, to an idealized image, enriched by meaningful psychological dimensions such as intimacy, help, loyalty, and trust (Furman & Buhrmester, 1985). In middle childhood, children, who are able to take into account the emotional states and thoughts of the others, begin to worry about being excluded from the peer group (Parker & Gotmann, 1989). These elements make it possible to hypothesize the presence of friend influence or socialization among 7-8 year-olds.

The current investigation focused on the behavioral dimension of aggression; a multidimensional phenomenon, which includes the heterogeneity of aggressive behaviors (Heilbron & Prinstein, 2008; Little, Brauner, Jones, & Hawley, 2003). For example, aggressive behavior is undertaken with the goal of causing damage to other people. Furthermore, behavior is aggressive when the actors are aware they will damage the victims (Anderson & Bushman, 2002). Thus, the main characteristics of aggressive behavior include damage and intentionality.

The current study focused on the modalities for behaving aggressively, distinguished between physical and relational aggression. Physical aggression includes hurtful acts that are open and direct; this form of aggression is common during infancy and early childhood. Relational aggression involves both nonconfrontational acts (Cairns, Cairns, Neckerman, Ferguson, & Gariépy, 1989), as gossip and social isolation that damage another child's friendship or feeling of inclusion in the peer group, and direct relational threats, as verbal aggression as insulting and swearing (Cairns, 1979). …