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1 The Development of Childhood Aggression: Boys Will Be Boys, But What About Girls? Nicki R. Crick, Ph.D. Director, Institute of Child Development Distinguished.

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Presentation on theme: "1 The Development of Childhood Aggression: Boys Will Be Boys, But What About Girls? Nicki R. Crick, Ph.D. Director, Institute of Child Development Distinguished."— Presentation transcript:

1 1 The Development of Childhood Aggression: Boys Will Be Boys, But What About Girls? Nicki R. Crick, Ph.D. Director, Institute of Child Development Distinguished McKnight University Professor Birkmaier Professor of Educational Leadership University of Minnesota

2 2 Traditional Views of Aggression For decades, research and theory focused on discovering why, how, and when boys will be boys. In their classic book on gender differences Maccoby & Jacklin (1974) cited aggression as one of the only true gender differences in development. Boys aggression > Girls aggression starting at an early age and continuing across the lifespan

3 3 What Do More Recent Theories Tell Us About Gender and Aggression? Beginning at preschool (4 - 5 years), girls are socialized away from externalizing problems (e.g., aggression) and toward internalizing problems (Keenan & Shaw, 1997).

4 4 Also…. Aggressive behavior among girls does not typically appear (or reappear) until adolescence and, even then, boys are more aggressive than girls (Keenan & Shaw, 1997; Moffitt et al., 2001; Silverthorn & Frick, 1999). Apparent Conclusion: Aggression is not a very salient problem for girls (Crick & Zahn-Waxler, 2003).

5 5 So….What About Girls? Sugar and spice and everything nice…. OR Not? Have we missed something?

6 6 Limitations of Past Theory and Research on Aggression The majority of past studies and theories have been dominated by definitions of aggression that are male biased. Most previous investigations have focused almost exclusively on boys and, as a result, have often excluded girls as participants.

7 7 Relative to girls, boys tend to be more concerned during social interaction with physical dominance, instrumental concerns, territoriality, etc. The aggressive behaviors most characteristic of boys tend to reflect these themes or orientations. These are the types of behaviors that have been traditionally assessed in past studies of aggression.

8 8 Physical Aggression Includes behaviors in which physical damage (or the threat of physical damage) serves as the agent of harm. Includes behaviors such as threatening to beat up a peer unless they comply with a request; using physical intimidation as a retaliatory behavior; hitting, pushing, shoving, kicking.

9 9 Addressing Past Limitations In contrast to boys, girls tend to focus more on relational ties during social interaction. The aggressive behaviors that are most characteristic of girls tend to reflect these orientations (Crick & Grotpeter, 1995). These types of aggressive acts have been overlooked until recently.

10 10 Relational Aggression Includes behaviors in which damage to relationships (or the threat of relationship damage) serves as the vehicle of harm (Crick & Grotpeter, 1995). Includes direct and indirect acts such as threatening to end a friendship unless a peer complies with a request; using social exclusion as a retaliatory behavior; spreading rumors to encourage peers to reject a classmate.

11 11 Whats In a Name? A variety of other labels have been used to describe the types of behaviors I refer to as relational aggression The two most common are indirect and social aggression Both of these terms have been used to describe several types of aggressive acts, including physical aggression

12 12 Even when the definitions of indirect and social aggression have been specifically described as using relationships to harm others, often the instruments used to assess these behaviors have included items without a clear focus on relationships E.g., secretly plans to bother the other one (Bjorkqvist et al., 1992; Osterman et al., 1999) or destroyed or damaged something that belonged to them (Richardson & Green, 1999; Smith & Waterman, 2005) In the review that this presentation is based on (Crick, 2007), only studies in which aggression was clearly assessed as harm to relationships were considered Further, only published empirical studies were included

13 13 What Does Relational Aggression Look Like at Different Ages?

14 14 Developmental Manifestations of Relational Aggression Preschool: Ann and Susan were playing on the slide when Tiffany came over and started talking to them. Ann and Susan covered their ears to block her out. Tiffany went to tell the teacher. Jill and David were playing in the fantasy corner when David put on a hat that Jill wanted. They fought back and forth until Jill said Im not gonna be your friend. David still wouldnt give in so Jill said I wont be your BEST friend. David gave in.

15 15 Middle Childhood: Say Were going to be in a group and youre not going to be in it. Pretend you dont see the kid. Tell a lie about them that they didnt do. Tell your friends not to be that kids friend. Say Im not going to be your friend anymore.

16 16 Adolescence: Talk about them behind their backs and to their face, exclude them. Pretend to be friends with them, then stab them in the back. Tell them what you think of them in front of their friends so they get embarrassed. Ignore them, dont return phone calls. Try steal their boyfriend.

17 17 Early Adulthood: Women hurt other women by the amount of affection from men they receive. For example, saying Mark called and he likes me better than you. Build up a coalition of other people against the person. Talk about them and try to ruin their friendships with others. Gossip, gossip, gossip. Give them the silent treatment. Act cold and bitchy. Seduce the persons dating partner.

18 18 Video Example of Relational Aggression Click HERE to view the VideoHERE

19 19 Is Relational Aggression ReallyAggressive? Two Types of Evidence: 1. Childrens views of the harmful nature of relationally aggressive acts 2. Impact of relational aggression on the targets (i.e., relational victimization)

20 20 Do Children View Relational Aggression as Harmful or Mean?

21 21 Childrens Reports of Mean Behavior (% of Responses) From: Crick, Bigbee, & Howes (1996)

22 22 Does Relational Aggression Have a Negative Impact on the Frequent Targets or Victims?

23 23 Relatively high levels of relational victimization have been shown to be associated with: Peer rejection (e.g., Crick, Casas, & Ku, 1997; Cullerton-Sen & Crick, 2005; Ostrov et al., 2004; Schafer et al., 2002) Externalizing problems (e.g., Ostrov et al., 2004) Depressive symptoms (e.g., Crick et al., 1997; Prinstein, Boergers, & Vernberg, 2001) Loneliness (e.g., Crick & Nelson, 2002) Cigarette, alcohol, and marijuana use (Sullivan, Farrell, & Kliewer, 2006 ) Obesity (Pearce, Boergers, & Prinstein, 2002) Romantic relationship and dating problems (Pearce et al., 2002; Ruh, Crick, & Collins, 2002).

24 24 Conclusion According to both types of evidence, relational aggression appears to be harmful and aggressive!

25 25 Are There Gender Differences in Relational Aggression?

26 26 Mixed findings have been reported in some cases and appear to vary according to…. Age of the participants Method used to assess relational aggression (e.g., naturalistic observations vs. teacher reports) Culture A couple of examples in which gender differences have been noted….

27 27 Percentage of Boys and Girls Classified as Aggressive GroupBoysGirls Physically Aggressive 15.6%0.4% Relationally Aggressive 2.0%17.4% Phys & Rel Agg9.4%3.8% Total27.0%21.6% Physically Agg. Only (25.0%)(4.2%) (Crick & Grotpeter, 1995)

28 28 At What Age Can Gender Differences in Relational Aggression First Be Identified? Naturalistic observations of relational aggression in preschoolers (2.5 – 5 yrs. of age) have demonstrated that girls are significantly more relationally aggressive than boys during early childhood (Crick, Ostrov, Burr, Cullerton-Sen, Jansen-Yeh, & Ralston, 2006). In this study, if relational aggression had not been assessed, we would have failed to identify 87.5% of aggressive young girls. No studies have yet been conducted with children younger than 2.5 years.

29 29 Does the Meaning of Relational Aggression Differ for Boys and Girls? Preschool and school-aged girls have been shown to feel more distress when confronted with relational conflicts and to view relationally aggressive acts as more aversive relative to boys (e.g., Coyne, Archer, & Elsea, 2006; Crick, Grotpeter, & Bigbee, 2002; Giles & Heyman, 2005) Girls (but not boys) have been shown to exhibit greater physiological arousal (increased diastolic BP) in response to relational conflicts (Murray-Close & Crick, in press)

30 30 Is Relational Aggression Associated with Maladaptive Outcomes?

31 31 Relational aggression has been shown to be associated with: Peer Rejection (Andreou, 2006; Crick, 1996; Hennington et al., 1998; Johnson & Foster, 2007; Rys & Bear, 1997; Tomada & Schneider, 1997; Storch, Werner, & Storch, 2003; Werner & Crick, 1999; Zimmer- Gembeck et al., 2005) Internalizing Problems such as depressive symptoms, anxiety, somatic complaints, & loneliness (e.g., Crick, 1997; Loudin, Loukas, & Robinson, 2003; Prinstein, Boergers, & Vernberg, 2001; Roach & Gross, 2003)

32 32 And also with…. Externalizing Difficulties such as delinquent behavior, anger, # of school detentions, ADHD, psychopathy, & substance use (e.g., Crick, 1997; Marsee et al., 2005; Park et al., 2005; Prinstein et al., 2001; Roach & Gross, 2003; Storch, Werner, & Storch, 2003; Sullivan, Farrell, & Kliewer, 2006; Zahn- Waxler, 2005; Zalecki & Hinshaw, 2004) Maladaptive Personality Characteristics such as antisocial personality features, borderline personality features, & narcissism (Crick, Murray-Close, & Woods, 2005; Marsee, Silverthorn, & Frick, 2005)

33 33 Aspects of these associations between relational aggression and social- psychological adjustment difficulties have been demonstrated in a number of countries including: USA Japan Greece China Australia Italy Russia Canada

34 34 The majority of existing studies have been cross-sectional; however, a few longitudinal studies have been conducted and these show that relational aggression predicts future maladjustment… Some example findings: High levels of relational aggression in 3 rd grade predicted low levels of social preference 3 years later in 6 th grade for girls, but not boys (Zimmer- Gembeck, Geiger, & Crick, 2005) Observed relational aggression significantly predicted future peer rejection (assessed at 6, 12, and 18 month intervals) for preschoolers (Crick et al., 2006)

35 35 More example findings…. Increases in 4 th graders relational aggression over an 18 mo. interval were associated with increases in internalizing symptoms (Murray-Close, Ostrov, & Crick, in press) and also increases in borderline personality features (Crick, Murray-Close, & Woods, 2005)

36 36 Relational vs. Physical Aggression and Maladjustment Relational aggression provides unique information about maladjustment, above and beyond that provided by physical aggression, primarily for girls. Physical aggression tells most of the story about aggression and adjustment problems for boys whereas relational aggression tells most of the story for girls.

37 37 What are Some Factors that Might Contribute to the Development and/or Maintenance of Relationally Aggressive Behavior Patterns? Heritability Socialization via relationships Social cognitive patterns

38 38 Is Relational Aggression Heritable? A behavior genetic study (Brendgen, Dionne, Girard, Boivin, Vitaro, & Perusse, 2005) of 6- year-old twins showed that: 63% of the variation in teachers ratings of physical aggression was accounted for by genetic effects In contrast, only 20% of the variation in relational aggression was accounted for by genetic effects These findings suggest the particular importance of examining environmental influences on relational aggression.

39 39 The Relationships of Relationally Aggressive Youth Parents Siblings Friends Antipathies Romantic Partners

40 40 Parenting characteristics shown to be associated with relational aggression include: Authoritarian parenting styles (Casas et al., 2006) Permissive parenting styles (Casas et al., 2006) Physical coercion (Hart et al., 1998; Nelson et al., 2006) Lack of paternal responsiveness (Hart et al., 1998) Psychological control strategies (Casas et al., 2006; Nelson et al., 2006)

41 41 And also.... Insecure attachment behaviors (Casas et al., 2006) Lack of paternal involvement (i.e., time spent with fathers; Updegraff et al., 2005) Lack of parental warmth (Updegraff et al., 2005) Lack of concern regarding childrens use of relational aggression (Ohan & Johnston, 2005; Werner et al., 2006)

42 42 A few caveats Most studies targeted preschoolers Some findings may be moderated by gender of parent and/or gender of child Studies were conducted in several countries

43 43 Sibling Relationships Stauffacher & DeHart (2005; 2006) observed acts of relational aggression during minute play sessions between 4-year-old children and their siblings and friends (follow-up conducted at 8 years of age). Results: RA more frequent in sibling than friend interactions at 4 years of age From 4 to 8 years, RA decreased in sibling dyads but increased in friend dyads

44 44 Siblings Contd Older siblings use of peer-directed relational aggression predicted increases in younger siblings use of RA over the course of a school year during preschool (Ostrov et al., 2006). Socialization? Adolescents use of RA within the sibling dyad has been shown to be associated with a lack of intimacy and relatively high levels of negativity within the sibling relationship (Updegraff et al., 2005).

45 45 Friendships: Having Friends Few published studies and findings are mixed Some studies show relational aggression to be associated with having fewer friends compared with peers (e.g., Johnson & Foster, 2005; Sebanc, 2003) whereas others find RA to be related to having more or the same # of friends (e.g., Burr et al., 2005; Rys & Bear, 1997) Overall, findings suggest that gender of the child or dyad may serve as a moderator

46 46 Friendships: Quality of the Relationship Relational aggression has been shown to be associated with: Jealousy/feelings of exclusivity (Grotpeter & Crick, 1996; Sebanc, 2003) High levels of intimacy (Grotpeter & Crick, 1996; Sebanc, 2003) Use of relational aggression within friend interactions (Grotpeter & Crick, 1996) Conflict (Cillessen et al., 2005; Sebanc, 2003)

47 47 Friendship: Characteristics of the Friend Friends tend to exhibit similar levels of relational aggression - this association is stronger for reciprocal than for unilateral friends (Cillessen et al., 2005; Werner & Crick, 2004)

48 48 Is it Problematic to Befriend a Relationally Aggressive Child? Nonaggressive 3 rd grade girls who are best friends with relationally aggressive girls become significantly more relationally aggressive themselves a year later in 4 th grade (Werner & Crick, 2004) Peers may serve as an important socializing force.

49 49 Antipathies What is an antipathy? Two children who identify each other as a disliked peer (Abecassis et al., 2002) Results of a longitudinal study show that increases over time in both same- and opposite-sex antipathies are associated with increases in relational aggression for girls, but not for boys (Murray-Close & Crick, in press)

50 50 Romantic Relationships Do girls use RA to damage the reputations of their dating rivals? Results of a longitudinal study show that increases in dating popularity are associated with increases in relational aggression for adolescent girls, but not for boys (Pellegrini & Long, 2003). Does RA exhibited toward romantic partners affect the quality of that relationship? Romantic partner RA has been shown to be associated with negative relationship qualities such as jealousy, lack of trust, frustration, anxious clinging to the romantic partner, and ambivalence about the relationship (Linder, Crick, & Collins, 2002)

51 51 Social-Information-Processing Patterns Associated with Relational Aggression Intent Attributions Are peers acting with benign or hostile intent in ambiguous conflict situations?

52 52 Crick & Dodge (1994). Psychological Bulletin

53 53 Instrumental Conflicts Imagine that you are walking to school and you are wearing your new tennis shoes. You really like your new shoes and this is the first day that you have worn them. Suddenly, you are bumped from behind by another kid. You stumble and fall into a mud puddle and your new shoes get muddy. Why did the kid bump into you? Hostile intent (hostile attribution bias) = S/he wanted to me to ruin my new shoes; S/he wanted to get even with me for something Benign intent = S/he tripped over a rock in the road and then fell into me

54 54 Findings show that…. Physically aggressive children exhibit hostile attributional biases for instrumental conflicts (Crick, 1995; Crick, Grotpeter, & Bigbee, 2002). Relationally aggressive children do NOT.

55 55 Relational Conflicts Imagine that you are in the bathroom one day after recess. While you are in there, two other kids from your class come in and start talking to each other. Your hear one of the kids invite the other one to a birthday party. The kid says that there are going to be a lot of people at the party. You have not been invited to the party. Why havent you been invited to the party? Hostile Intent (hostile attribution bias) = The kid doesnt want me to come to the party; The kid is mad at me about something Benign Intent = The kids hasnt had a chance to ask me yet; My invitation is at home in my mailbox

56 56 Findings show that: Relationally aggressive children exhibit hostile attributional biases for relational conflicts (Crick, 1995; Crick, Grotpeter, & Bigbee, 2002). Physically aggressive children do NOT.

57 57 General Conclusions Contrary to existing theories, girls exhibit significant aggressive behavior problems prior to adolescence. Similar to physical aggression, relational aggression is associated with significant adjustment difficulties. Relational aggression is particularly important for understanding the difficulties of girls.

58 58 Environmental factors seem to be particularly important for the development of relational aggression Parents, friends, and siblings may play a socializing role. Social- information-processing patterns may contribute to childrens use of relational aggression.

59 59 Acknowledgments National Institute of Mental Health National Institute of Child Health and Human Development National Science Foundation William T. Grant Foundation Harry F. Guggenheim Foundation Special thanks to the graduate and undergraduate research assistants as well as the study participants who made this research possible.


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