Average Social Status Linked to Aggressive Behavior

Aggression in individuals is usually attributed to psychological or social problems or issues in the home environment. This study takes a different approach in evaluating whether the status you’ve achieved among your peers and the competition to maintain the acquired social position is the origin of aggressive behavior. Observations implied that youngsters either at the top or bottom of a hierarchy were less prone to be aggressive. This was extended to check whether gender-related interactions had any role in hostile behavior. Gender segregation at school level amplifies the competition for social position when cross-gender friendships become introduced; cross-genders schools find less aggression overall.

The study examines the consequences of aggression at the school level on violent adult behavior in both the victim and the aggressor. Depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, poor academic performance and social isolation are often noticed in children who are victims of bullying. Perceived social status among peers is central to hostility. The urge to reach the zenith (or center of the social network or centrality) or maintain the achieved position encourages aggressive behavior. It is suggested that “adolescents’ aggressive behaviors are influenced not so much by their own gender as by their relationships with the other gender, and by the degree of gender segregation at the school level.” This research also analyses the role of gender bridges, i.e. individuals who have cross-gender relations in a same-gender dominated setting.

* Data on aggression was collected from 3,772 students, both respondents and their peers, across 19 schools in North Carolina (middle and high schools).
* Students were asked to name five students who had picked on them, and to name five students whom they had picked on. Physical attacks, verbal abuse and indirect aggressive responses were accounted for in the study.
* Students were also asked to name their five best friends; from these friendship networks, they were able to determine cross-gender friendships and a picture of the social network at large.

* On an average, a student was aggressive towards 0.63 of his schoolmates, while 67 percent students were not aggressive towards anyone.
* Females were more hostile and enjoyed higher social popularity. Males were more physically aggressive.
* Social centrality or popularity and aggression were directly proportional; the more popular a person, the higher chance they were involved in an aggresive situation
* In highly gender-segregated schools, increases in social centrality were associated with major increases in same-gender aggression for students who have more than one cross-gender friendship.

The study population is not sufficiently representative to extrapolate the results to other cohorts. The study period was limited to one academic year and, therefore, long term changes could not be noted. Also, specific random events that could bring massive alterations in a teenager’s life could have been missed because of the restricted study settings and measures.

This study highlights a different perspective to understanding aggressive behavior across different age groups. Aggression is analyzed as a consequence of interactions in society for better status or power or relationships between genders. Either attaining centrality among friends or in a social setting or securing an achieved centrality seems to go hand in hand with aggression. Shift in centrality, or popularity, increases hostility across all cases, but is more pronounced in the case of gender bridges. Only students who are already in a pivotal position and for whom aggression is not essential for reaching the top of a social ladder will show decrease in aggression rates relative to centrality.

For More Information:
Status Struggles: Network Centrality and Gender Segregation in Same- and Cross-Gender Aggression
Publication Journal: American Sociological Review, 2011
By Robert Faris; Diane Felmlee; University of California-Davis, Social Sciences and Humanities

*FYI Living Lab Reports Are Summaries of the Original Research.

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