Monday, September 22, 2008

Are Boys as Socially Aggressive as Girls?

The standard view is that boys are physically aggressive in social settings, while girls are more socially aggressive (spreading rumors, gossiping and intentionally excluding others). Turns out that isn't quite the case.

Boys as Socially Aggressive as Girls: Study

By Robert Preidt, HealthDay Reporter

(HealthDay News) -- Boys are as likely as girls to be socially aggressive by doing things such as spreading rumors, gossiping and intentionally excluding others, says a U.S. researcher.

"These conclusions challenge the popular misconception that indirect aggression is a female form of aggression," review lead author Noel A. Card, an assistant professor of family studies and human development at the University of Arizona, said in a Society for Research in Child Development news release.

Card and his colleagues analyzed 148 studies that included almost 74,000 children and teens. The researchers said the belief that girls are more likely to be socially aggressive than boys persists among teachers, parents and others because of social expectations that develop early in life, which are fueled by movies and books that depict girls being mean and socially aggressive toward each other.

The studies included in the review were conducted mostly in high schools and looked at both physical and social aggression, which is meant to damage a person's social standing in his or her peer group.

The analysis of the studies also revealed that children who carry out one of the two types of aggression may be more likely to carry out the other type. This connection is seen more in boys than in girls, the researchers said.

Card and his colleagues also noted ties between both forms of aggression and adjustment problems. Physical aggression is related to problems like delinquency and ADHD-type symptoms, poor relationships with peers, and low "pro-social behavior" such as helping and sharing. Social aggression is related to problems such as depression and low self-esteem, as well as higher pro-social behavior. This may be because some teens use pro-social behavior to encourage peers to exclude or gossip about others, the researchers said.

The study was published in the September/October issue of the journal Child Development.

More information

The Nemours Foundation has more about teens and bullying.

My guess is that this is a result of boys being socialized to be more like girls -- i.e., not being allowed to be physical and being made to be more socially oriented by parents and teachers.

When I was a kid, "pecking order" was determined at recess -- everyone knew the hierarchy, so if someone wanted to move up, they fought the next higher or highest person. No one ever really was hurt, and the teachers pretty much ignored it.

Not saying this was a good thing, just saying that's how it was.

However, this study looked at high school age kids. When I was that age, the pecking order was more covert and no one really challenged it (it was based more on social standing than physical strength, though good athletes tended to rank higher). But there also wasn't any of the social aggression the study saw in the today's youth.

I'd be curious to know how much socialization plays into this -- I mean at an early age. We might be making our boys more girlish in many different ways.

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