Relational Aggression and Victimisation: Perspectives of Boys and Girls, and Associations with Depression and Anxiety
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Abstract: Three studies were conducted to investigate how socioemotional functioning (depression, social worries, and social anxiety) and peer group processes are associated with adolescents’ relational aggression and victimisation, defined as behaviours that are intended to damage others’ peer group belonging and relationships. Studies 1 and 3 were investigations of aggression and socioemotional functioning among 297 10- to 13-years-olds and 335 9- to 15-year-olds, respectively. Participants with particular profiles of aggression and victimisation (N = 33) were selected from Study 1 to complete a semi-structured interview in Study 2. Drawing from these interviews, new measures of aggression/victimisation were developed in Study 3. In both Studies 1 and 3, associations between aggression, victimisation and socioemotional functioning were expected to be mediated via perception of peer relationships, and associations were expected to be stronger for girls than boys. Furthermore, in Study 3, dominance and affiliation motivations, peer acceptance and rejection, social prominence (a composite of popularity, leadership, and being wellknown, influential and admired), and unpopularity were expected to explain aggression and victimisation. Results of Studies 1 and 3 showed that aggression and victimisation are associated with more depressive symptoms, and more intermittently associated with social worries and anxiety symptoms. Using new items developed in Study 3, two subtypes of relational victimisation were found, with ‘isolated’ victimisation loading on one factor and ‘connected’ victimisation loading on a second factor. The ability to examine these two victimisation subtypes revealed that peer-reported aggression and connected victimisation are more strongly correlated than aggression and isolated victimisation, and these associations were stronger among girls than boys. Relational Aggression iii When participants’ negative perceptions of their peer relationships were examined as mediators of associations, findings were mixed for the association of aggression with socioemotional outcomes. Perceptions of peers, especially of peer group exclusion and distrust, did mediate associations between aggression and depressive symptoms in Study 1, but this was not found in Study 3 when only perception of exclusion and distrust was measured. Findings of mediation were clearer for associations between victimisation and the outcomes of social worries and anxiety symptoms. Perception of peers played mediational roles in Study 1 when victimisation and social worries were examined and, in Study 3, similar findings emerged for both forms of victimisation and social anxiety symptoms. Most frequently, no gender differences in relational aggression or victimisation were found, but some marginal differences did emerge when extreme groups were examined, with girls higher in peer-reported aggression than boys. In addition, boys seem to self-report more aggression than girls. Although few instances of gender moderation were found, peer-reported victimisation is more strongly linked with girls’ than boys’ depressive and anxiety symptoms. Yet, aggression and victimisation usually have similar negative implications for the socioemotional functioning of girls and boys. Finally, in Study 2, boys and girls were interviewed about relationally aggressive behaviours and their perceived motivations for behaviours, and in Study 3 the roles of social motivations and peer status in aggression and victimisation were examined. Boys and girls describe relational aggression as driven by peer group dynamics, aggressors; emotions, and victim characteristics. Although there are few gender differences in these descriptions, adolescents do sometimes identify ways that boys carry out relational aggression that are different for girls, and some differences in how peer factors are associated with aggression. Finally, in Study 3, regression Relational Aggression iv models showed that those who are more aggressive and report more victimisation are less accepted (liked) by their peers. Also, those who are aggressors and those higher in connected victimisation are seen as more socially prominent, but those higher in isolated victimisation are nominated as lower in social prominence and are more rejected and unpopular. With regards to motivations, those who self-report more aggression have more dominance motivations, as do those who are higher in isolated victimisation. Adolescents higher in connected victimisation report less affiliation motivation, as do those who were higher in isolated victimisation. Future research is needed to extend on this investigation of the peer group factors and social motivations associated with relational aggression, to capture the day-to-day experiences of relational aggression, and to focus on dyadic and social networks of aggressors and victims. Implications for theory, research and practice are discussed, including the importance of school-based interventions for addressing relational aggression.
Thesis (PhD Doctorate)
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Griffith University. School of Psychology
Item Access Status
Adolescents’ relational aggression and victimisation