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Aggression, victimization, and social prominence in early adolescent girls and boys

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Although aggression is sometimes thought to be maladaptive, evolutionary theories of resource control and dominance posit that aggression may be used to gain and maintain high social prominence within the

Although aggression is sometimes thought to be maladaptive, evolutionary theories of resource control and dominance posit that aggression may be used to gain and maintain high social prominence within the peer group. The success of using aggression to increase social prominence may depend on the form of aggression used (relational versus physical), the gender of the aggressor, and the prominence of the victim. Thus, the current study examined the associations between aggression and victimization and social prominence. In addition, the current study extended previous research by examining multiple forms of aggression and victimization and conceptualizing and measuring social prominence using social network analysis. Participants were 339 6th grade students from ethnically diverse backgrounds (50.4% girls). Participants completed a peer nomination measure assessing relational and physical aggression and victimization. They also nominated friends within their grade, which were used to calculate three indices of social prominence, using social network analysis. As expected, results indicated that relational aggression was associated with higher social prominence, particularly for girls, whereas physical aggression was less robustly associated with social prominence. Results for victimization were less clear, but suggested that, for girls, those at mid-levels of social prominence were most highly victimized. For boys, results indicated that those both high and low in prominence were most highly relationally victimized, and those at mid-levels of prominence were most highly physically victimized. These findings help inform intervention work focused on decreasing overall levels of aggressive behavior.

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  • 2013

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A relational perspective on aggression: the role of friends, victims, and unfamiliar peers in the use of aggressive behavior

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Aggression is inherently social. Evolutionary theories, for instance, suggest that the peer group within which an aggressor is embedded is of central importance to the use of aggression. However, there

Aggression is inherently social. Evolutionary theories, for instance, suggest that the peer group within which an aggressor is embedded is of central importance to the use of aggression. However, there is disagreement in the field with regard to understanding precisely how aggression and peer relationships should relate. As such, in a series of three empirical studies, my dissertation takes a relational approach and addresses some of the inconsistencies present in the extant literature. In Study 1, I examined how qualities of youth's close friendships contributed to the use of aggression, both concurrently and over time. I found that youth with large friendship networks were more aggressive, whereas those with highly interconnected friendship network decreased in aggression over time. Using a dyadic mediation model, the second study considered the precursors to aggressors' friendships with peers. Specifically, I explored aggressive youth's interactions with unfamiliar peers and assessed how the interactions that unfold affected the quality of the relationship. I found that dyads who were highly discrepant in their tendencies toward aggression failed to collaborate well with one another, and this led to less positive perceptions of one another. Whereas the first two studies concerned aggressors' relationships with their friends (Study 1) and acquaintances (Study 2), Study 3 focused on a different type of relationship – the relationship between an aggressor and his or her victim(s). In the third study, I explored how power dynamics operate within an aggressor-victim dyad and assessed whether differences in the balance of power between the aggressor and victim affected the strength of their relationship. I found that more aggressor-victim dyads were characterized by a relative balance than imbalance in power, and that power balanced dyads had stronger and more sustained aggressor-victim relationships. By taking a relational approach to the study of aggression, this dissertation has advanced extant work in the field. That is, these findings move away from the simplification and aggregation of relational constructs (e.g., relationships, friendships), and instead consider the nuances of specific types of relationships or interactions with specific peers, allowing for a better understanding of the relational nature of aggression.

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  • 2016