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Gender Differences in Aggression

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Gender Differences In Aggression

Previous research concerning peer aggression has been conducted under the assumption that women rarely display aggression; therefore, aggressive behavior has historically been viewed as a male phenomenon (Bjцrkqvist, 1994). Recently, many researchers have challenged the gender bias in the existence of aggressive behaviors and have broadened the definition of aggression. Bjцrkqvist's research suggests sex differences exist in the quality of the aggression, but not the quantity. According to Paquette and Underwood (1999), an adolescent's expression of anger and contempt for peers can sometimes be expressed through physical aggression, manipulation, exclusion, and/or gossip. This broader definition allows for a more complete understanding of the social or relational aggression, which is typically associated with females. Relational aggression is more verbal than physical and very prevalent in today's society.

Gender differences in the prevalence and the form of aggressive behavior used could be explained by the different social roles of females and males. This paper will discuss the different types of aggression and how each type is used within the female and male peer groups.

Aggression has been defined as having five central features: Intention to harm, unprovoked, happens repeatedly, victim perceives the bully as having power, and occurring in small groups. There are two distinct forms of aggression within this definition, overt (physical) and relational (verbal). Crick and Grotpeter (1995) state that the distinction between overt and relational aggression is related to gender. To be specific, the types of aggressive behaviors displayed within peer groups differ between same-sex groups.

It was previously assumed that girls used strictly relational aggression in contrast to boys who primarily used overt forms of aggression. Research shows that levels of overt aggression are higher in males; however, the levels of relational aggression are equal between both males and females (Bjцrkqvist, Lagerspetz, & Kaukiainen, 1992). This does not mean that females are less aggressive than males. Females and males choose their principal form of aggression in order to maximize the effects of the aggression. The reaction of peers to overt and relational aggression differs due to the general value of the group. To generate the desired reaction, females typically choose to use relational forms of aggression because they tend to value intimate relationships. Because males tend to value influential goals such as status among peers, they will typically use overt forms of aggression and gradually incorporate relational forms (Grotpeter & Crick, 1996). The choice of aggression could be linked to the social roles of males and females, the verbal maturity, or the social dynamics in peer relationships.

The nature of girls' relationships involves intimate conversations between friends and, as a result, girls are more invested in their social status and friendships compared to boys (Berndt, 1982). Their choice to use relational aggression to impose social norms more often than physical aggression can be credited to the desire for adolescents to "damage what the same-gender peer group most values" (Paquette & Underwood, 1999, p. 244). Girls view relational aggression as wounding because it harms the intimate relationships they value. Because of the high levels of intimacy in their relationships, relational aggression enables them to gain control over their friends (Grotpeter & Crick, 1996). As a reaction, individuals who have been victims of relational aggression reported experiencing feelings of unhappiness as well as lowered self-perceptions of athletic capability, physical appearance, romantic appeal, close friendships, and general self-worth.

Girls view relational aggression just as harmful as physical aggression, but tend to react more to the experience of being a victim of relational aggression than boys (Paquette & Underwood, 1999). Regardless of tendencies, the choice of tactic is dependent on the situation. It is not out of character for a girl to use physical aggression if under direct physical attack (Bjцrkqvist, 1994). It is apparent that girls choose their aggressive strategy according to the situation, but relational aggression is most commonly effective.

In addition to social group values, a girl's preference to use less physical aggression compared to relational aggression can be the result of development and general social expectations. Some studies have shown that boys' tend to romanticize aggression; however, girls are expected to act more prosocial and in a caring manner. Since girls are expected to play a more social role, they tend to utilize more social rather than physical forms of aggression

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