Boys scored significantly higher than girls in relational aggression perpetration and lower than girls in relational aggression victimization, according to recent study data.
The Healthy Teens Longitudinal Study comprised 620 students (52% male; 47.9% white; 35.8% black) from nine middle schools in six school districts in northeast Georgia. Students were given questionnaires about perpetration or feelings of victimization during grades 6 through 12. Participants were asked whether they kept other students from being in groups, told another they would not be liked unless they did some particular act or spread false rumors about others.
About 70% of the sample (n=435 for aggression, n=431 for victimization) completed all 7 years of questionnaires and an additional 24% had only one or two missing data points.
Relational aggression perpetration
Almost 55% of participants were classified in the low relational perpetration trajectory in which the average score of 0.33 in grade 6 declined to 0.11 in grade 12. Thirty-nine percent of students were classified in the moderate relational aggression trajectory with an average relational aggression score of 0.86 in grade 6 which declined to an average of 0.45 in grade 12.
The remaining 6.5% of the cohort was classified in the high declining relational aggression trajectory; they showed an average relational aggression score of 2.28, which declined to an average of 0.81 in grade 12.
The gender composition was significantly different; in the low relational aggression perpetration group, the genders were nearly equal (boys, 48.1%; girls, 51.9%), but more boys than girls were identified in the moderate (55% vs. 45%) and high declining (66.7% vs. 33.3%) trajectories. Significant racial differences were shown between the relational aggression groups, with more black students in the high declining trajectory and fewer in the low trajectory than anticipated.
Relational aggression victimization
About half of the participants (48.1%) were classified in the low relational victimization trajectory, with students consistently reporting very low relational aggression victimization throughout the study. The average scores were 0.34 in grade 6 and 0.09 in grade 12.
More than 43% of participants were classified in the moderate relational victimization trajectory, with the average relational victimization score of 0.83 in grade 6, declining to an average of 0.41 in grade 12. The remaining 8.8% of students were classified in the high declining relational victimization trajectory, with the average score for this group high (2.72) in grade 6, but declining to an average of 0.54 in grade 12. The gender composition of these trajectories was significantly different, with more boys in the low victimization group (61.2% vs. 38.8%) and more girls (57% vs. 42.6%) in the moderate victimization group. Racial differences were not significant.
Before beginning the study, the researchers hypothesized that gender would not affect outcomes.
“Contrary to our expectations of no gender differences, the two trajectories of higher perpetration of relational aggression had more boys than girls, and the trajectories of higher victimization of relational aggression had more girls than boys,” the researchers wrote. “These findings highlight the importance of differentiating perpetration and victimization and of examining relational aggression among boys and girls.”
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