November 05, 2013

Relational aggression, victimization, adjustment and the hostile attribution bias

This blog post was written by Jenna Anderson, and is (possibly) the final one to be posted from my current group of dissertation students. Thanks to Jenna for her hard work, and thanks to all the other students who have done similar posts recently.

Ostrov,J. M., & Godleski, S. A. (2013). Relational aggression, victimization, and adjustment during middle childhood. Development and Psychopathology, 25, 801 – 815. [[NB web link here is to full-text of the article]]

This study looked at the direct and indirect links between relational aggression and relational victimisation. Relational aggression refers to behaviours such as excluding individuals or spreading rumours, therefore providing a direct link to similar behaviours in victims of bullying.

Social Process Model
In order to establish the link between relational aggression and relational victimisation, Ostrov and Godleski focused on the Social Process Model. This outlines that aggressive behaviour can lead on to victimisation (this is the direct link), however, it can also be indirectly linked, in which aggression is said to lead to peer rejection, which then leads on to bullying.

Predicted Mediators
Within this study, the authors predicted several factors which they hypothesised would have an indirect effect on the link between relational aggression and relational victimisation.

The first of these factors was loneliness. They highlighted through the use of previous research that loneliness during adolescence can lead to a variety of different problems, such as aggression. Research was also presented which highlighted the link between loneliness and peer victimisation, suggesting that individuals who experience loneliness may be more likely to become victims of bullying. They suggested that they had found enough evidence to justify testing for an indirect link between relational aggression, loneliness and relational victimisation.

The second mediator suggested by the authors was the role of Hostile Attribution Biases (HAB). This relates to when an individual interprets cues from their environment in a negative, hostile way. The research presented suggests that individuals who display relational aggression are more likely to display HAB towards relational provocation, such as excluding someone. This suggests that there may be an indirect link between HAB, aggression and victimisation.

The final mediator suggested was depressive symptoms. They found research which suggests that internalising problems (This refers to when an individual conveys their problems through processes which affect themselves but do not affect others), a core feature of depression, can lead to relational aggression in adolescents. They hypothesised that children who experience symptoms of depression may be more likely to be victimised, which then highlights the link between relational aggression, relational victimisation and depressive symptoms.

Role of Gender
The key gender difference highlighted within this genre of research is that boys are more likely to display physical aggression than relational aggression in comparison with girls, who are more likely to display relational aggression than physical aggression.

There were 1035 participants in the stud, of whom 522 were girls. The average age of the participants was 8 years and 4 months old.

Several methods were used to collect the data. Teacher reports were used to collect data for relational aggression and relational victimisation. A self-report method was used to collect data relating to HAB. A loneliness and dissatisfaction questionnaire was used to measure the loneliness mediator. In order to measure depressive symptoms, a self-report measure was used, in which the children report how they are feeling and in order to obtain data relating to physical aggression, teacher reports were used.


The results of this study highlighted a direct link between relational aggression, and the likelihood that this would lead on to future relational victimisation. It was found that, of the three mediating factors, only loneliness was said to affect the direct link between aggression and victimisation. Despite this, all three mediators were found to be associated with each other, supporting previous research. Interestingly, the researchers also found that the link between relational aggression and relational victimisation could be reversed, suggesting that not only is aggression likely to lead to future victimisation, but victimisation is also likely to lead to future aggression. This study provided support for the direct and indirect aspects of the Social Process Model when applied to relational aggression.

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