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.
You know all about the Mean Girls.
The ones who demonstrate "relational aggression," as researchers call it.
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.
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%).