Social Aggression

Social (or relational) aggression refers to behavior that is intended to harm another’s friendships, social status, or self esteem.  In contrast to physical aggression, social aggression may use verbal slights and non-verbal body language to reject or exclude others, and it may be indirect, involving rumor or manipulation (Underwood, 2003).  Social aggression can be as hurtful as physical aggression, and may be more common than physical aggression among some groups of children and youth.

Methods for assessing social aggression vary depending on the age of participants. At younger ages, teacher reports may be most valid, whereas older children can be surveyed directly about their experience as either victims, perpetrators, or both.  

Peer nomination techniques (having children list the names of students that engage in socially aggressive behaviors, including themselves, while looking at a classroom or grade-level roster) is another method which can be used, but when collecting these data, the confidentiality and privacy of respondents must be effectively safeguarded (Branson &Cornell, 2009).

Progress in preventing or reducing social aggression can be assessed by comparing information about the number of socially aggressive incidents experienced by participants on a weekly or monthly basis. If the rate of social aggression (the average number of incidents reported over a specific time interval) or the number of participants who report acting in socially aggressive ways toward others is not reasonably low or decreasing, program managers may want to assess issues around program design, implementation, and quality.

By ChildTrends


Sources Cited

Branson, C., & Cornell, D. (2009). A comparison of self and peer reports in the assessment of middle school bullying. Journal of Applied School Psychology. 25, 5-27. 

Underwood, M. K. (2003).  Social aggression among girls. New York: The Guilford Press.