Aggression in Adolescents linked to Social Dominance

There have been studies on aggression in adolescents being linked to social dominance and peer victimization in a group. Results from this study showed that peer victimization and social dominance could explain the association between peer liking, or popularity in the group and “relational aggression” (covert behavior causing damage to relationships among others in a group). It was revealed that a high level of victimization increased this association while social dominance did not influence this association. The researchers focused on relational aggression and not physical aggression because the former was considered to be more relevant with regard to its connection to popularity.

Earlier research has shown that, “In general, children and adolescents have been found to be unsympathetic toward victims of aggression and often see those who are victimized as being responsible for their own plight.” Early teenage years are an important stage when peer victimization and social dominance are correlated to popularity and relational aggression. It was noticed that some adolescents who employed relational aggression against their peers were, contrary to expectations, liked by their peer group. This study was undertaken to “better understand the link between how much one is liked in the peer group and relational aggression by examining characteristics of the aggressors, social dominance and peer victimization.”

•    The study involved 367 participants from five different public schools, from grades five and six.
•    The adolescents’ behavioral characteristics were assessed.
•    Next, every child was required to rate every classmate of the same sex according to a set of seventeen parameters like “indirect and direct relational aggression,” “physical aggression,” “victimization” and “social dominance.”
•    Based on the children’s answers, scores on each one of the parameters were assessed for every child and analysis was carried out.

•    The results demonstrated that “peer victimization” was related to both popularity and relational aggression that were in turn linked to each other. This means that victimization of an individual in a group could explain the linkage between being popular and relational aggression on the part of the individual.
•    On the other hand, social dominance did not influence popularity and relational aggression.
•    Being liked or not was not connected to aggression, which was unrelated to social dominance.

Next steps/Shortcomings
Researchers concur that this study fails to understand all the complexities of social dominance and the development of aggression during childhood and teenage years. They suggest future studies to explore these complexities using more extensive measures to shed light on the issue. These studies could also follow up children over a period of time, to establish the changing dynamics of social relations. Secondly, participation rates for this study were lower than desirable, thus causing worry that the participants did not fully represent the population.

To conclude, the authors of this study paper state that, “the results showed that both victimization and social dominance play a role in understanding the link between relational aggression and being liked by the peer group.” There has been evidence that the principles of relational aggression may be used in framing public programs and policies and also that these characteristics represent the place an individual holds in society. According to the study authors, “it is not only important to know whether someone is relationally aggressive but it’s also important to know who is using the aggression and how the peer group views that individual.”

For More Information:
Association of Peer Victimization and Social Dominance with Peer Liking and Relational Aggression
Publication Journal: The Journal of Early Adolescence, August 2009
By Ryan E. Adams; Nancy H. Bartlett; Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, and Concordia University, Montreal, Quebec

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