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Adult perceptions of children's relational and physical aggression as a function of adult ethnicity and child gender

Sharice Angel Brown, University of Massachusetts Amherst


This study examined how emotion and discipline differed in response to children's relational and physical aggression in African American and European American women. Affective (e.g., concern) and discipline responses of adults toward physical aggression have been linked with children's behavior problems. However, these reactions have not been explored as a function of ethnicity and only little examined as a function of gender. Even less is known about reactions toward relational aggression. Better knowledge about adult perceptions of children's aggressive behaviors could improve theoretical understanding of the development of these problems, and guide efforts at improving treatments. In the present study, hypothetical vignettes depicting a boy or a girl engaging in physical and relational aggression were used to assess how participants report they would respond to such behaviors in their own children. Consistent with initial hypotheses, adults were more concerned and embarrassed about physical aggressive behavior among children than relationally aggressive behaviors. Additionally, adults were more lax for relational aggression and more overreactive toward physical aggression. Adult behavioral responses toward relational aggression were more likely to include discussion and they were more likely to provide a consequence for physical aggression (i.e., adults displayed more reparation and reprimands for physical aggression). With respect to ethnicity, African Americans generally reacted more strongly to aggression, though European Americans made more reparation responses than African Americans for physical aggression. With regard to gender, participants were more overreactive to boys being relationally aggressive than girls and less overreactive to boys being physically aggressive than girls, and this finding appeared to be largely accounted for by African American participants. Results point to the need for psychoeducation regarding the seriousness of relational aggression.

Subject Area

Behavioral psychology|Social psychology|Clinical psychology

Recommended Citation

Brown, Sharice Angel, "Adult perceptions of children's relational and physical aggression as a function of adult ethnicity and child gender" (2009). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3379943.