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Tiffany Garner, Beth A. Kotchick, Ph.D., Alison A. Papadakis, Ph.D., Rachel L. Grover, Ph.D.

Relational Aggression in Adolescents:  The Role of Emotion Regulation

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Over the years, peer directed aggression has become one of the most studied adjustment problems in children (Crick et al., 2006). This research has focused mainly on overt aggression, the form of aggression most common in male peer groups. Recently, a relational form of aggression, which aims to harm others by manipulating and damaging peer relationships, has been found to be relatively common in female peer groups (Crick & Grotpeter, 1995). Studies have shown relational aggression to be a damaging aspect of children’s socialization within peer groups (Crick, Casas & Mosher, 1997). Little is known, however, about the internal processes behind why children engage in relationally aggressive behaviors.

The present study attempted to address these limitations by examining the association between relational aggression and emotion regulation in a parochial school sample of 6th through 8th grade children (N = 186) and their teachers. Results indicated no significant gender differences in the frequency of relational aggression according to self- and teacher-report. Multiple hierarchical regression analyses showed self-reported relational aggression to be positively associated with emotion dysregulation. Gender was found to moderate this relationship such that for boys, greater internal dysfunctional emotion regulation was associated with greater use of relational aggression, whereas for girls, greater external dysfunctional emotion regulation was associated with greater use of relational aggression. Practical implications of these findings are discussed, particularly as they might inform future preventative measures and treatment protocols for relational aggression, very few of which currently exist.

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