Online Program

Myth of mean girls: Longitudinal examination of girls' and boys' relational aggression

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Pamela Orpinas, PhD, Health Promotion and Behavior, University of Georgia, Athens, GA
Lusine Nahapetyan, MPH, Health Promotion and Behavior, University of Georgia, Athens, GA
Caroline McNicholas, MA, Health Promotion and Behavior, University of Georgia, Athens, GA
Background. Relational aggression refers to behaviors such as saying something mean or hurtful, passing rumors, or excluding others on purpose. Depending on the context and intensity, these behaviors can have a devastating impact on the victim. Popular media has consistently highlighted that boys fight with their fists, but girls fight with words; thus, associating relational aggression with females. Objectives. The objectives of this presentation are to: 1) identify trajectories of perpetrating or being the victim of peer relational aggression from Grades 6-12, and 2) describe the sex composition of these trajectories. Methods. The sample consisted of a cohort of 624 randomly-selected sixth graders (48% girls; 48% White, 36% White, 11% Latino). Every spring, participants reported the 30-day frequency of relational aggression perpetration and victimization. We used semi-parametric group based modeling to identify trajectories. Results. Overall, relational aggression declined from Grade 6 to 12. We identified three trajectories of relational aggression: Sporadic (perpetration: 55% of total sample, victimization: 48%), Low (perpetration: 39%, victimization: 43%), and High (perpetration: 6%, victimization: 9%). In relation to perpetration, more boys (67%) than girls (33%) were in the High perpetration group; Sporadic and Low perpetration groups had similar sex composition. In relation to victimization, significantly more boys than girls were in the Sporadic victimization group, and more girls than boys were in the Low victimization group; the High victimization group did not differ by sex. Discussion. This longitudinal study debunks the myth that relational aggression is most frequently perpetrated by females.

Learning Areas:

Diversity and culture
Public health or related education
Public health or related research
Social and behavioral sciences

Learning Objectives:
Describe the characteristics and prevalence of relational aggression by sex. Identify distinct trajectories of relational aggression from middle to high school, and describe the proportion of boys and girls in each category. Discuss the implications of the results for educating the public.

Keyword(s): Adolescents, Violence

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I am the principal investigator of this study; I have published numerous studies in health and adolescent aggression.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.