Miriam Ruiz
random thoughts on technology and life

{September 17, 2008}   Indirect aggression is NOT a female form of aggression

A research conducted by Noel A. Card at the Universities of North Carolina and Kansas, that appears in the September / October issue of journal Child Development, challenges the popular misconception that indirect aggression is a female form of aggression. The meta-analysis is based on 148 studies of aggression in children and adolescents in schools, involving on the whole about 74,000 children and adolescents.

Direct aggression is what we might call physical aggression, and indirect aggression includes covert behaviour designed to damage another individual’s social standing in his or her peer group. Based on the analysis, the researchers suggest that children who carry out one form of aggression may be inclined to carry out the other form. This is seen more in boys than in girls.

The popular myth that girls are more likely to be socially aggressive has been proven wrong by this analysis, even though it has persisted among teachers, parents, and even among researchers, probably because of social expectations and recent movies and books portraying girls as mean and socially aggressive.

They also found ties between both forms of aggression and adjustment problems. Direct aggression is related to problems like delinquency and ADHD-type symptoms, poor relationships with peers, and low prosocial behaviour such as helping and sharing, while indirect aggression is related to problems like depression and low self-esteem, as well as higher prosocial behaviour (perhaps because a child must use prosocial skills to encourage peers to exclude or gossip about others).

Miry says:

Traducción del artículo al castellano:

Un nuevo análisis basado en casi 150 estudios de agresión en infancia y adolescencia ha encontrado que, aunque los niños son más agresivos que las niñas físicamente, son iguales en lo relativo a ataques indirectos como cotillear, expandir rumores o aislar intencionadamente a otros.

‘Estas conclusiones contradicen la equivocada creencia popular de que la agresión indirecta es una forma femenina de agresión’, indicó Noel A. Card, profesor asociado de estudios sobre la familia en la Universidad de Arizona, y coautor del estudio.

El meta-análisis, basado en estudios combinados sobre 74,000 infantes y adolescentes en colegios, analizó tanto la agresión directa (la física) como la indirecta (que incluye el comportamiento destinado a dañar la situación social de la otra persona dentro del grupo).

El mito de que las niñas son más proclives a ser socialmente agresivas ha persistido entre profesores, padres e incluso entre investigadores, debido a las películas y libros que siguen mostrando a las niñas como malvadas y socialmente agresivas.

Basándose en los análisis, los investigadores han sugerido que quienes usan una forma de agresión estarían inclinados a usar también la otra. Esto se ha observado más en niños que en niñas.

También se ha encontrado una relación entre ambas formas de agresión y los problemas de integración. En concreto, la agresión directa está relacionada con problemas como la delincuencia o síntomas del tipo del TDAH (trastorno por déficit de atención con hiperactividad), relaciones pobres con sus compañeros y compañeras y un bajo comportamiento prosocial (del tipo de ayudar o compartir).

Por otra parte, la agresión indirecta se relaciona con problemas como depresión y baja autoestima, así como con comportamientos prosociales altos (tal vez debido a que se han de usar las habilidades prosociales para conseguir que los compañeros excluyan o difundan rumores sobre otros).

La investigación, dirigida por Card y sus compañeros en la Universidad de Carolina del Norte y Kansas, aparecerá en el número de septiembre / octubre de la revista Child Development.

John Hughes says:

Maybe I’m dumb, but isn’t this contradictory?

“children who carry out one form of aggression may be inclined to carry out the other form”


“Direct aggression is related to problems like delinquency [...], and low prosocial behaviour”


“indirect aggression is related to problems like depression [...], as well as higher prosocial behaviour”

So which is it? Low or high? Both forms of aggression or one or the other?

Miry says:

Some other links:

Miry says:

The abstract of the article is:

Direct and Indirect Aggression During Childhood and Adolescence: A Meta-Analytic Review of Gender Differences, Intercorrelations, and Relations to Maladjustment (by Noel A. Card, Brian D. Stucky, Gita M. Sawalani, Todd D. Little)

This meta-analytic review of 148 studies on child and adolescent direct and indirect aggression examined the magnitude of gender differences, intercorrelations between forms, and associations with maladjustment. Results confirmed prior findings of gender differences (favoring boys) in direct aggression and trivial gender differences in indirect aggression. Results also indicated a substantial intercorrelation ( = .76) between these forms. Despite this high intercorrelation, the 2 forms showed unique associations with maladjustment: Direct aggression is more strongly related to externalizing problems, poor peer relations, and low prosocial behavior, and indirect aggression is related to internalizing problems and higher prosocial behavior. Moderation of these effect sizes by method of assessment, age, gender, and several additional variables were systematically investigated.

David Dumortier says:

I have some doubts about the serious of the university and the author, and I haven’t the time to explore it yet.
But I think it show a fact very important, socials conventions tend to be masculin, so the unconfortable fact that men are more aggresive than women must be counter-balanced by a equivalent violence in women in phalocratic society, such things carrying by most medias and stereotypes of virility and feminity. As our societyes are phalocratics perharps the true place of this type of aggression (indirect) is in high-level or so call social civilization or “class”, and not in men/women antagonism.

Miry says:

David: What kind of doubts? Is there anything to support those doubts or just intuition?

I agree with you in what you say about “the unconfortable fact that men are more aggresive than women must be counter-balanced by a equivalent violence in women”. That might be what’s really beyond all this legend of girls supposedly being more indirectly violent than boys.

David Dumortier says:

Shame on me, I thought it was a private and vague university, I was confused by the name … Norton is a name full of sense for the nerd I am …

To continue on the subject, boys are usual “training” to be dominants, so there’s no reason they don’t train on social violence. Another usual assumption is that boys are more resilient to violence but perharps they are not and are more impressed by social violence (because not face so many time than girls in the education) so the idea of more social violence from girls spread ?
Anybody have pointers on the sort of education and “punishements” boys and girls have in their familly education ?

Miry says:

One more link:

Peliculera says:

Je, justo queria leer acerca de esto, investigando llegue hasta tu blog, exelente entrada !!! gracias !!

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