In general, relational aggression can be considered to involve any type of behavior or action that is interpersonally related and has a negative influence on a child or adolescent’s relationship with his/her peers (Putallaz & Bierman, 2004).  This type of aggression can be indirect, usually involving a third party, or direct, involving a one-one-one interaction. Relational aggression refers to harm among social relationships caused by covert or hidden bullying or manipulation. Because relational aggression is subtle, it is often times hard to observe and may not appear as typical aggressive behavior. Xie, Swift, Cairns B., and Cairns, R., (2002) define relational aggression as behaviors that damage a child’s friendships or feelings of inclusion by the peer group.


    Behaviors such as social exclusion/isolation, withdrawing or threatening to withdraw or end a friendship, gossiping, spreading rumors, ignoring, stopping talking to a friend, spreading gossip and rumors by email, etc.


    Evidence has shown that relational aggression may create just as much or more damage than physical aggression among youth (Crick & Grotpeter, 1995). Ellis, Crooks, and Wolfe (2009) report that peer relational aggression perpetration predicts elevated levels of emotional maladjustment in adolescents. Furthermore, Cappella (2006) claims that social aggression has been shown to be a factor in the social and psychological maladjustment of children. Crick and Grotpeter (1995) found that relationally aggressive children were disliked more by their peers than non-relationally aggressive children. Peer rejection leads to low social standing, which can seriously alter a child or adolescent’s ability to form and maintain positive peer relationships and find a place in their peer social groups. Crick and Grotpeter (1995) also reported that relationally aggressive children were lonelier, reported greater isolation from their peers, and experienced more depressive symptoms than their non-relationally aggressive peers. Researchers involved with The Ophelia Project (2005) state that such childhood aggression (i.e. relational aggression) can lead to higher frequencies of depression, school drop-out, substance abuse, early parenthood, delinquency, and other criminal behavior. Furthermore, Skara et al. (2008) report that both physical and relational aggression are predictive of subsequent drug use.


    Researchers have found that as early as three years of age, differences in subtypes of aggression between genders may be apparent (Ostrov, Woods, Jansen, Casas, & Crick, 2004; McNeilly-Choque, Hart, Robinson, Nelson, & Olsen, 1996; Crick, Casas, & Mosher, 1997). Additionally, relational aggression is evident at this age (i.e. three years old) as well as in elementary and middle school students, and adolescents (Nixon, 2005). Although relational aggression has been found to be present during these developmental periods, how it is expressed varies with age. Nixon (2005) explained that relational aggression is likely to be more explicit with younger children while becoming more sophisticated and covert as children age. This may be due to the development of social skills and an increase in language use. During middle to late childhood and into adolescence, researchers suggest that due to cognitive development and the complex thinking that is involved in manipulating relationships (i.e. relational aggression); there may be an increase in the frequency of social/relational aggression (Bjorkqvist, 1994; Crick et al., 1999). Gottman and Mettetal (1986) indicated that social aggression may be more prominent during this age period due to children’s strong desire to be accepted by their same-age peers.









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    Crick, N.R., Casas, J. F., & Mosher, M. (1997). Relational and overt aggression in preschool. Developmental Psychology, 33, 589-600.

    Crick, N. R. & Grotpeter, J. K. (1995). Relational aggression, gender, and social-psychological adjustment. Child Development, 66, 710-722.

    Crick, N. R., Wellman, N. E., Casas, J. F., O’Brien, M. A., Nelson, D. A., Grotpeter, J. K., & Markon, K. (1999). Childhood aggression and gender: A new look at an old problem. In D. Bernstein (Ed.), Nebraska Symposium on Motivation (pp. 75-140). Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

    Ellis, W., Crooks, C., & Wolfe, D. (2009). Relational Aggression in Peer and Dating Relationships: Links to Psychological and Behavioral Adjustment. Social Development, 18(2), 253-269.

    Gottman, J. M. & Mettetal, G. (1986). Speculations about social and affective development: Friendship and acquaintanceship through adolescence. In J. M. Gottman & J. G. Parker (Eds.), Conversations with friends: Speculations of affective development (pp. 192-237). New York: Cambridge University Press.

    McNeilly-Choque, M. K., Hart, C. H., Robinson, C. C., Nelson, L. J., & Olsen, S. F. (1996). Overt and relational aggression on the playground: Correspondence among different informants. Journal of Research in Childhood Education, 11, 47-67.

    Nixon, C. (2005). RA & interventions: Reducing relationally aggressive behaviors in middle school students through intervention. Retrieved October 5, 2005 from  http://www.opheliaproject.org/main/documents/RAInterventionStudy_000.pdf.

    Ostrov, J. M., Woods, K. E., Jansen, E. A., Casas, J. F., & Crick, N. R. (2004). An observational study of delivered and received aggression, gender, and social-psychological adjustment in preschool: “This white crayon doesn’t work…” Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 19, 355-371.

    Putallaz, M. & Bierman, K. L. (2004). Aggression, antisocial behavior, and violence among girls: a developmental perspective. New York: The Guilford Press.

    Skara, S., Pokhrel, P., Weiner, M. D., Sun, P., Dent, C. W., & Sussman, S. (2008). Physical and   relational aggression as predictors of drug use: Gender differences among high school students. Addictive Behaviors, 33(12), 1507 – 1515.

    The Ophelia Project. (2005). Bullies, Broken Hearts. Retreived October 6, 2005, from http://www.opheliaproject.org/main/relational_aggression.htm.

    Xie, H., Swift, D. J., Cairns, B. D., & Cairns, R. B. (2002). Aggressive behaviors in social interaction and developmental adaptation: A narrative analysis of interpersonal conflicts during early adolescence. Social Development, 11, 205-224.