A Review of Research on Social Aggression among Adolescents with Implications for Secondary School Counselors

Open Access
Schywstell, Tana L.
Area of Honors:
Human Development and Family Studies
Bachelor of Science
Document Type:
Thesis Supervisors:
  • Scott David Gest, Thesis Supervisor
  • Richard Hazler, Faculty Reader
  • Kathryn Bancroft Hynes, Honors Advisor
  • social aggression
  • relational aggression
  • indirect aggression
  • peer conflict
  • school counselors
  • adoelscents
  • anti-bullying programs
In recent decades, social aggression among adolescents has received increasing attention from the media, social science researchers, and school counselors. Socially aggressive behaviors may include “damaging another’s self-esteem, social status, or both” and may take on “direct forms such as verbal rejection, negative facial expressions or body movements” as well as “indirect forms such as slanderous rumors or social exclusion” (Galen & Underwood, 1997, p. 589). The term social aggression was chosen for the present literature review over other terms such as indirect aggression (Björkqvist, 1994) and relational aggression (Crick & Grotpeter, 1995) due to its inclusive nature. Although scholars have proposed numerous social and biological theories regarding the origins of aggressive behavior, Social Dominance Theory, which suggests individuals use coercive strategies to increase their social status, may be most effective in explaining motivations of social aggression perpetrators (Hawley, 1999). The present literature review examines both quantitative and qualitative research on social aggression, focusing on the antecedents and consequences of social aggression perpetration and victimization, and implications for school counselors. Social aggression, which occurs among both male and female adolescents (Mayeux & Cillessen, 2008), may be most prevalent in the middle school setting (Karriker-Jaffe, Foshee, Ennett, & Suchindran, 2008). Antecedents of social aggression perpetration include perceived popularity (Parkhurst & Hopmeyer, 1998), social intelligence (Björkqvist & Österman, 2000), anxiety (Murray-Close & Crick, 2007), and learning/behavioral issues (Merrell, Buchanan, & Tran, 2006). Such behaviors may result in a variety of damaging outcomes for victims such as low-self-esteem (Owens, Slee, & Shute, 2000b), as well as internalizing and externalizing behavioral problems (Crick & Nelson, 2002). School counselors should understand these dynamics to provide appropriate social support and intervention programs for both victims and perpetrators; however, they should use caution when disrupting adolescents’ autonomy in establishing social hierarchy, as this may be a critical function of development (Goldstein, Young, & Boyd, 2008). More research is needed to fully evaluate the efficacy of anti-bullying programs, but such prevention and intervention strategies should be examined and carefully implemented by counselors to reduce the prevalence of social aggression in the secondary school setting. Overall, while school counselors should be knowledgeable of empirical findings, they should assess the unique needs of their student body and of individual social aggression conflicts before administering programs or social support services.