Landon Hale and David Nelson, School of Family Life
“Relational aggression” defines a spectrum of behaviors in which the goal is to manipulate or harm relationships. Common behaviors include gossip, rumors, social exclusion, and threatening to end a relationship. Until relational aggression became a focus of study, males were considered to be aggressive whereas females were generally considered nonaggressive. In particular, aggression research, particularly in child psychology, was predominantly focused on physical forms of aggression, which tend to be the domain of males. In contrast, females are just as likely or more likely (depending on age) to engage in relational aggression toward others. We wanted to find out if there were differences is the expression of relational aggression between adolescent boys and girls, and to then compare those findings across cultures and continents.
We surveyed roughly 230 adolescents (roughly equal number of males and females) in each age group of 12-13 year-olds and 17-18 year-olds in each culture. Accordingly, there were about 460 participants in each culture, with a grand total of roughly 1440 participants. Surveys were anonymous, but asked for basic demographic information, before the adolescent responded to the four open-ended questions. Demographic questions included the age, gender, ethnic background, and religious affiliation of adolescent participants. The four open-ended questions were asked in the following manner: (1) “What do most girls do when they want to hurt or be mean to other girls?”, (2) “What do most boys do when they want to hurt or be mean to other boys?”, (3) “What do most girls do when they want to hurt or be mean to boys?”, and (4) “What do most boys do when they want to hurt or be mean to girls?” The answers were then translated by native speakers of each language, and clarification was sought where question or discrepancy arose.
The responses were then categorized by a team of five coders to separate the responses into different classifications of relational aggression as follows: 1. Direct Relational Aggression (overt and/or confrontational behaviors (face-to-face) which directly harm others through damage (or threat of damage) to relationships or feelings of acceptance, friendship, or group inclusion; usually verbal in nature, may be reactive or proactive). 2. Indirect Relational Aggression (consistent with indirect aggression, covert and/or non-confrontational behaviors (not face-to-face, but behind someone’s back) which harm others through damage to relationships or feelings of acceptance, friendship, or group inclusion; usually verbal; may be reactive or proactive). 3. Cyber-bullying/Electronic Aggression, being defined as any aggression or malintent expressed through electronic means including but not limited to social media, texting/messaging, incriminating pictures, etc. 4. Nonverbal Aggression (nonverbal and gestural behaviors intended to exclude, alienate or embarrass others). 5. Verbal Aggression (verbal intimidation and disparagement; may be solely between the aggressor and victim or in front of others (public humiliation); also found in written forms; the purpose is not specifically to undermine relationships but to insult; may be direct or indirect). 6. Passive Aggression (Behavior intended to hurt the victim and to shield the perpetrator from the appearance—to self and others—(a) of anger and (b) of wanting to hurt the victim). 7. Direct Physical Aggression (overtly causing physical damage or injury). 8. Indirect Physical Aggression (covertly causing physical damage or taking property). 9. Sexual Bullying/Aggression/Harassment (any physical, verbal, or electronic aggression that had a sexual connotation or nature were classified as sexual under the supposition that the sexual intent superseded the means by which the aggression occurred. 10. Too Vague.
Continuation of Study
The data will be quantitatively analyzed in order to investigate potential developmental differences (early vs. late adolescence), gender differences, and cultural differences in normative perceptions of aggression for the various adolescents and cultures. Potential indigenous expressions will be identified qualitatively. This data will be compiled and presented at multiple national and international conferences.