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An Examination of Physical versus Social Aggression in Children

Posted Oct 03 2008 12:52pm

According to this article, physical aggression in children is manifested by both their genes, as well as the environment in which they grow up. Conversely, social aggression (spreading rumors, isolating others) is seen as being influenced primarily by environmental factors. The article also states that previous research has demonstrated that having physically aggressive friends increases physical aggressive in genetically predisposed kids. However, the current research looked and whether socially aggressive children are impacted by having socially aggressive friends, and whether there is an interactive effect for either type. Here is what the study found:

The researchers found that friends' physical aggression interacts with genetic liability to predict children's own physical aggression. Specifically, the genetic disposition to physical aggression is more likely to express itself when children are exposed to physically aggressive friends. No gene-environment interaction was found with respect to children's social aggression. Instead, friends' social aggression seems to be directly associated with children's own social aggression, independent of children's genetic disposition to this behavior. The results also revealed that the effect of friends' aggression on children's aggression only seems to occur in the context of the same type of aggression. In other words, friends' physical aggression predicts children's physical but not their social aggression, whereas friends' social aggression predicts children's social but not their physical aggression.

In other words, if a child is predisposed to being violent, it is more likely to come out if they are socializing with other physically aggressive kids. I would assume, then, that kids without the predisposition will not be impacted by being around others who are aggressive (unless I am interpreting this wrong?). On the other hand, being socially aggressive is far more influenced simply by who you choose to associate with.

Bottom line - choose your friends wisely, kids! Oh, and parents, you are right to check on who your kids are choosing to hang out with. I’ve always been amazed at how kids who want to engage in certain behaviors to find each other, whether for good or ill. I’ve also pointed out that if an individual wants to increase or decrease a certain behavior, simply hang out with people who are already doing it. This goes for adults, too. If you want to quit smoking, don’t go out to the smoke pit and hang out with everyone smoking out there, it’s too hard. If you want to be more physically fit, hang out with people who exercise and eat healthy. Seems this research suggests that this sort of wisdom applies to aggression as well.

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