"Mean Girl" Stereotype Shot Down

Contrary to the "mean girl" stereotype, adolescent male students manifest more relationally aggressive behavior than girls, according to new research from the University of Georgia.

Contrary to the “mean girl” stereotype, adolescent male students manifest more relationally aggressive behavior than girls, according to new research from the University of Georgia.

The research, published in the journal Aggressive Behavior, examined 322 boys and 298 girls as they progressed from 6th to 12th grade among 6 school districts in Northeast Georgia.

Each year, the students completed a survey, which allowed the researchers to measure both relational aggression perpetration and victimization. Students were asked if they had done the following in the last 30 days: not let another student be in the group, told students he/she would not like them if they did not do what he/she wanted, tried to keep others from liking another student by saying mean things, spread a false rumor, left a student out of an activity on purpose, and used humor to make fun of another student.

Students used a 6-point scale to describe how frequently they had participated in these acts, and then filled out the same survey to measure their own experiences as victims of them.

Over the 7 years, almost all students confessed to at least 1 act of relational aggression, 96% for both boys and girls, or 1 act of victimization, 92.3% of boys and 94.3% of girls.

The researchers found that students followed 3 distinct trajectories of relational aggression perpetration and 3 mirroring trajectories of victimization: low, moderate, and high declining. In other words, students’ measures of aggression and victimization typically started higher in their middle school years and declined as they grew older.

Although the study authors had hypothesized that there would be no gender differences between the trajectories, there were more boys in the low victimization group than they expected; boys comprised 61.2%, while girls comprised 38.8%. They were also surprised to see more girls in the moderate victimization group than anticipated: 42.6% of boys versus 57.4% of girls.

Boys and girls were about equal among the low relational aggression perpetration groups, but more boys played a part in the moderate (55% of boys versus 45% of girls) and high-declining trajectories (66.7% of boys versus 33.3% of girls).

The researchers pointed out that more research is needed to determine whether girls are more likely to be targets of relational aggression or perceive acts as aggressive.

While the study authors found the high declining trajectories worrying, they did see a positive trend.

“The bright side is that aggression decreased as students matured, and the majority of adolescents reported low relational aggression,” the researchers stated.