Relating Characteristics of Children and Their Friends to Relational and Overt Aggression

By Phillipsen, Leslie C.; Deptula, Daneen P. et al. | Child Study Journal, December 1999 | Go to article overview

Relating Characteristics of Children and Their Friends to Relational and Overt Aggression


Phillipsen, Leslie C., Deptula, Daneen P., Cohen, Robert, Child Study Journal


Composite scores of sociometric ratings, number of friendship nominations, and social behavior nominations of mutual friends were compared to peer-nominated relational and overt aggression behaviors for 826 third- thorough sixth-grade children. Comparisons were made between boy-boy, girl-girl, and mixed-sex friendship dyads. Regardless of sex and type of aggression, the more aggressive a child appeared. the lower the child's social acceptability with peers and passive/solitary behavior nominations. Results indicated that the peer group may support gender-normative aggression while rejecting gender-non-normative aggression in children's friendships. Mixed-sex versus same-sex friendship dyads were compared and different patterns of peer social competence were noted. Results are discussed in terms of the importance of evaluating relationship characteristics as well as individual characteristics for understanding peer social competence and aggression.

Peer relations researchers have long been interested in the causes, effects, and development of aggression (Coie & Dodge, 1988), in part because children who engage in aggressive behavior are at risk for peer relationship difficulties and for later juvenile and adult crime (Parker & Asher, 1987). A recent review by Rubin, Bukowski, and Parker (1998) highlights the importance of placing individual development within the social contexts of peer interactions, relationships, and groups. These authors emphasize the need to move beyond solely focusing on individual characteristics and to consider the multiple levels of complexity that influence each other. Recently, researchers have begun to examine aggression within the context of social relationships (Grotpeter & Crick, 1996). The present research extended this line of inquiry by investigating the association of peer sociometric ratings, number of friendship nominations, and peer social behavior nominations on reports of children's relational and overt aggressio n. Following Rubin et al. (1998), these measures were examined at the relationship level of children's mutual friendships.

The examination of children's aggression often has divided aggressive behaviors into several sets of categories; for example, a distinction is frequently made between verbal and physical aggression (Parke & Slaby, 1983). More recently, researchers have dichotomized verbal and physical aggression as either instrumental-proactive (aggressive behavior to achieve an external goal) or hostile-reactive (aggressive behavior in response to provocation or goal blockage) (Crick & Dodge, 1996; Dodge & Cole, 1987; Dodge, Price, Coie, & Christopoulos, 1990). Researchers using these conceptualizations of children's aggressive behaviors report that these types of aggression are more commonly exhibited by boys than girls. Further, the consequences of aggression appear to be more severe for boys; although approximately half of aggressive boys are rejected by the peer group (Cillessen, van Ijzendoorn, & van Lieshout, 1992), girls who engage in overt aggression are less likely to be rejected by the peer group (Coie, Christopou los, Terry, Dodge. & Lochman, 1989; French, 1990).

The recent research of Nicki Crick challenges the findings that girls do not engage in much aggressive behavior (Crick, 1995; Crick & Grotpeter, 1995). Building on work by Lagerspetz, Bjorkqvist, and Peltonen (1988) that investigated a sex difference in direct (name-calling, hitting, pushing) versus indirect aggression (spreading untrue rumors, forming a friendship in revenge), Crick (1995) used the term "relational aggression" to refer to aggression that may be more common to girls. Relationally aggressive behaviors are those that are intended to hurt others through purposeful manipulation and damage of peer relationships (e.g., excluding a child from a group or threatening to end a friendship to inflict damage or exert control over a peer).

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