BACKGROUND: Longitudinal investigations have demonstrated that childhood aggression is the best-known behavioral predictor of future social adjustment difficulties. A significant limitation has been the exclusive focus on forms of aggression that are typical of boys peer groups but relatively rare in girls peer groups (e.g. overtly aggressive behaviours such as hitting, pushing, verbal threats). Therefore, some researchers have defined a relational form of aggression (harming others through purposeful manipulation or damage to their peer relations) that is hypothesised to be more typical for girls. The main goal of this paper was to summarise some of this research to see if the gender differences were as hypothesised, and most importantly, to see if relational aggression is a predictor of future maladjustment.
METHOD: Searching for the term relational aggression in the databases Pubmed and Psychinfo.
RESULTS: As to gender differences, results are ambiguous. It may seem like girls dominate regarding pure relational aggressors, whereas boys dominate regarding combined relational and overt aggressors. When it comes to psychosocial functioning, most results indicate that relationally aggressive children are more often rejected than children on average. Some researchers have pointed to the controversial status of these children. Others have concluded that these children are the most socially well functioning of all children.
CONCLUSIONS: The concept of relational aggression seems to be clinically useful as it identifies some aggressive children (especially girls) that are easily overlooked in research focusing on overt aggression. However, the implications of this relational aggression are vague. Longitudinal investigations are needed in order to conclude as to the psychosocial adjustment/maladjustment of these children.