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Mean Girls? Actually Science Says Boys Are Meaner

New research turns conventional wisdom about catty mean girls on its head. Turns out boys in middle and high school are meaner to other people than girls are.

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Numerous books have been written to address the problem of girl-on-girl relational aggression —

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Like gossiping, spreading negative rumors, threatening to end friendships, talking trash behind each others' backs, and excluding others from social groups. Think burn books (hi, Kendall Jenner!), blacklists, and manipulation. You know the deal.

Previous wisdom held that boys handled their aggression through physical violence and intimidation, while girls didn't have the same physical outlet — so they resorted to using this sort of psychological warfare against each other.

"Every time there's a study on relational aggression, it's about the girls," Pamela Orpinas, Ph.D., professor in the department of health promotion and behavior in the college of public health at the University of Georgia, told BuzzFeed Life. "And the books are about the girls, and the websites are about the girls. And we have very little about the boys."

So she and her colleagues at the University of Georgia conducted a longitudinal study that included boys and girls. And in their research, they found that boys use relational aggression, too. Actually, way more than girls do.

Here's how the study was conducted:

The researchers randomly selected 745 sixth-graders from nine middle schools across six school districts in Northeast Georgia. The student participants took computer surveys each spring semester for seven years, from sixth grade to 12th. A total of 620 students completed the study out of the original 745. The students were a diverse group, representative of the regional demographics, though not nationally representative.

Per the research article, recently published in the journal Aggressive Behavior, the students were asked how often they had done the following things during the previous 30 days:

1. Did not let another student be in the group

2. Told students you would not like them unless they did what you want

3. Tried to keep others from liking another student by saying mean things about the kid

4. Spread a false rumor about someone

5. Said things about another student to make other students laugh

The researchers also asked the kids how often during the previous 30 days they had been victims of these types of relational aggression acts.

Then the researchers had a computer program sort the students into three groups, based on similar behavior patterns: low, medium, and high relational aggression — based on how many times they reported being mean, and their patterns of meanness behavior over time.

They found that boys admitted to significantly more acts of relational aggression than girls did. And girls were more likely to be victims.

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From the study: "At each grade level, mean scores of perpetration of relational aggression were higher for boys than girls, and mean scores of relational aggression victimization were higher for girls than boys."

Also: 96% of the students who participated in the study reported at least one act of relational aggression (meaning, everyone is mean sometimes), and 92.3% of boys and 94.3% of girls said they'd been the victim of such an attack at one point during the study period, also.

Of the meanest kids (the ones who fell into the "high" relational aggression group), 66.7% were boys and 33.3% were girls.

Among the moderate aggression kids, boys made up 55% and girls 45%. And in the low aggression group, boys and girls were roughly evenly split (48.1% v. 51.9%).

Now for some good news.

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More than half of the participants (54.5%) fell into the LOW category for relational aggression — meaning, yes, everyone can be mean sometimes, but for the majority of people, it is a rare act.

Also, people get nicer (or, less mean) over the years. "All three trajectories go down over time," Orpinas says. "And the very high one, that's the one that goes down the most — partially because there's more room for improvement."

In any case... consider it proof that while middle schoolers truly can be monsters, things do get better over time.

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