Thoughts on relational aggression

As I work on my dissertation, a question comes to mind.

First, my dissertation topic: Pre-adolescent and adolescent girls’ peer relationships from a developmental perspective.

Now, the question:  Are these girls, in their relationships living up to messages absorbed in the media rather than being who they really are in their relationships?

Now, background for my question:…

But first:  I’ve only just started data collection, so none of this reflects any of my data, only what I have seen in my painfully extensive lit review.

Ok, back to the point.

As I read through and write up the existing research, I continually find studies on relational aggression, clique behavior, throw away friendships, group dominance, girl hate, etc.  All of these terrible stereotypes of girls’ behavior.  This is not only in the research journals and scholarly works, but is in every form of media, news, movies, music, on and on.  I see this behavior on occasion when I talk to the girls I work with, but for the most part, it is not a huge part of their relationship narratives.  They value their friendships, but they also fear losing them.  The fear, in my experience, is what spurs the aggression.  Now, I have seen research that says it comes from boredom or jealousy and I completely see that as well.  But I believe their is something to the idea that girls fear losing their friends.

I remain unabashed in my love/need for Gossip Girl.

But here is my real question: how much of this behavior is coming from the messages they receive that this is what they are supposed to be like?

Research was done years ago, but is regularly repeated (like good research to make sure it’s still relevant and the work was done honestly), that showed the effects of setting negative expectations.  In the research, a classroom of boys and girls were given a math test.  In one group, the class was told that, in general, girls performed worse in math across the board, so to not feel bad if they do poorly or struggle on this test.  In the control group, they were told nothing.  Well, surprise, surprise, the girls in the first group performed worse on the test.  They absorbed the message they were given and lived up to it.  Now, if you are wondering, another set of research was done where boys performed similarly on a writing test.  The takeaway message:  people live up to the message they are given.  People want to feel normal, when we tell them what is normal, they do it.  This might be especially relevant for adolescents who are desperately searching for an identity, want to be accepted, and work very hard to be both unique and “normal.”  Can we apply this to the relationally aggressive behavior?

I hope you enjoyed this preview of my dissertation. 🙂

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