August 19, 2011

Getting away with it - how can young people be aggressive AND popular?

Kuryluk, A., Cohen, R., & Audley-Piotrowski, A. (in press). The role of respect in the relation of aggression to popularity. Social Development.

This paper has not actually been published yet – it has been accepted for publication but will not appear in print for some months yet, making it the most cutting edge review we’ve had so far on this blog!

These authors noted that a number of researchers had found that aggressive children tend to be thought of as popular by other children. However, at the same time other children usually say they do not like aggressive children. These authors sought to explain this apparent contradiction by looking to see whether respect makes a difference to how aggression impacts on both popularity and liking by peers.

Here, 234 boys and girls from 3rd to 6th grade (approx ages 8-12 years) took part. All were attending a University-affiliated school in America, and were predominantly middle-class. Liking was assessed by asking the children to nominate who in their class they liked most and liked least, while popularity was assessed by asking who the most and least popular students were. Children also reported on their classsmates’ overt (e.g. fighting) and relational (e.g. excluding them from a group) aggression. The students were also asked to indicate who in their class they respected.

Results indicated that higher levels of both relational and overt aggression were associated with higher levels of popularity, but only if a child was highly respected. When children were not respected, their level of aggression did not have any impact on their level of popularity. This was true for both boys and girls.

For the ‘Liking’ nominations, the story was slightly different. These nominations were completely unrelated to levels of aggression among boys. However, for girls and girls only, high levels of both relational and overt aggression were related to lower levels of Liking, but only when that girls was not respected. When girls were highly respected, their levels of aggression were unrelated to Liking.

I think this is an interesting study – it suggests that the social consequences of using aggression are influenced by the degree of respect which young people have amongst their peers. In effect, if you are respected then being aggressive is also likely to make others think you are popular. However, if you are a girl and not respected, then being aggressive is likely to lead to rejection from the peer group – other children will not like you. This wasn’t true for boys, who could be aggressive without it impacting on the degree to which others liked them.

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