New Study Finds No Support For The "Mean Girls" Argument

The belief that relational (indirect) aggression is a predominantly female behavior has been popularized by some research studies and the media.  Girls are frequently depicted as harming others by manipulating or damaging relationships, whereas boys are thought to be more overtly aggressive.  But a new study conducted by researchers at the University of Georgia (Pamela Orpinas and Caroline McNicholas) and Southeastern Louisiana University (Lusine Nahapetyan) found that while there are gender patterns in relational aggression, these patterns are not the ones we think.

Orpinas and colleagues used a sample of 620 randomly selected sixth graders from nine middle schools in Northeast Georgia.  Participants were followed and surveyed every year from grade 6 to grade 12, in order to identify developmental trajectories of relational aggression perpetration and victimization, investigate possible gender patterns, and find out whether there is overlap between perpetration and victimization.

Scores of relational aggression perpetration were calculated by measuring how often during the 30 days prior to completing the survey participants: (1) did not let another student be in the group; (2) told students you would not like them unless they did what you want; (3) tried to keep others from liking another student by saying mean things about him/her; (4) spread a false rumor about someone; (5) left a student out of an activity on purpose, (6) said things about another student to make other students laugh.  Relational aggression victimization scores measured how often survey participants were victims of those same acts.

The researchers found that:

  • Participants tended to follow three distinct trajectories of relational aggression perpetration (low, moderate, and high declining) and victimization (also low, moderate, and high declining).
  • Relational aggression perpetration and victimization scores decreased with age.
  • At each grade level, mean scores of perpetration of relational aggression were higher for boys than girls, and mean scores of victimization were higher for girls than boys.
  • Boys were overly represented in the higher trajectories of perpetration, while girls were overly represented in the higher trajectories of victimization.
  • There was substantial overlap between trajectories of perpetration and victimization: two thirds of participants were classified in concordant groups.

The authors concluded that "more research is needed to understand the multiple factors that influence relational victimization, such as same-sex and other-sex victimization, sensitivity to rejection, social status, value of the relationship, and other personal and interactional characteristics."

Read more: resources:
Indicators of School Crime and Safety (
Body Image, Gender, and School Experience in Adolescence (
Religion among Teens: A Data-Driven Learning Guide (
Frederique Laubepin

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