It turns out that it's not 'mean girls' who rule at school but the 'mean boys,' who manipulate others.
According to the new study by the University of Georgia, boys use relational aggression, malicious rumors, social exclusion and rejection to harm or manipulate others more often than girls. The longitudinal study, followed a cohort of students from middle to high school and found that, at every grade level, boys engaged in relationally aggressive behavior more often than girls.
A team led by UGA professor Pamela Orpinas analyzed data collected from 620 students randomly selected from six northeast Georgia school districts. Students who participated in the study completed yearly surveys, which allowed the UGA researchers to identify and group them in distinct trajectories for relational aggression and victimization as they progressed from grade 6 to 12.
Orpinas said that they found that overall, relational aggression was very common behavior, and almost all of the students surveyed, 96 percent, had passed a rumor or made a nasty comment about someone over the course of the seven-year study.
Experiences of victimization were found to be universal as well. Over 90% of the students reported that they had been victims of relational aggression at least once.
The analysis found that students followed 3 developmental trajectories of perpetration and three similar trajectories of victimization-low, moderate and high declining. When examining how these trajectories differed by gender, the data revealed that notably more boys than girls fell into the two higher trajectories for relational aggression perpetration, while more girls than boys fell into the two higher trajectories for victimization.
Studies on relational victimization were uncharted territory in scientific literature, Orpinas explained. Much more research was needed to understand why girls were likelier than boys to be targets of relational aggression or to perceive certain acts as aggressive.
While the study may call for more scholarship on 'mean boys' and why they behave the way they do, Orpinas said, the findings ultimately emphasize a need to include boys and girls equally in programs aimed at reducing relational aggression.