Title: Aggressive Behaviors Among Inner-city Children and Adolescents
Name: Hongling Xie
Center for Developmental Science
CB# 8115, 100 E Franklin St, Suite 200
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Chapel Hill, NC 27599-8115
Year: 2001, 2002
Type: Research Grant

Narrative reports of peer conflicts were analyzed for 489 students in four public schools in which 99% of students enrolled were African-American. There were 93 first graders (54 boys and 39 girls; mean age = 6.98) and 142 fourth graders (67 boys and 75 girls; mean age = 9.96) from two elementary schools, and 254 seventh graders ( 99 boys and 155 girls; mean age = 13.09) from two middle schools. These schools were located in two neighborhoods of a major Southeastern city (one elementary school and one middle school from each neighborhood). According to the 1990 Census tract data, more than one-third of the families in the district served by the schools lived below the poverty line. Neighborhood police accounts and Census tract records indicated that all four schools were located in "high-crime" areas of the city. The codings were primarily focused on three types of aggression: physical (e.g., push, hit, beat up), verbal (e.g., argument, verbal threat), and social aggression (e.g., gossip, social exclusion, isolation, alienation).

High levels of physical aggression were reported in the peer conflicts. Significant gender differences were only observed in grade 7. A greater proportion of boy-boy conflicts involved physical aggression than girl-girl conflicts. In the 1st- and 4th-grade, however, conflicts among girls were as likely as conflicts among boys to involve physical aggression.

Low levels of social aggression were reported in all three grades. In both grade 4 and grade 7, a greater proportion of girl-girl conflicts involved social aggression than boy-boy conflicts. In general, inner-city African-American girls in this sample reported higher levels of physical aggression and lower levels of social aggression than girls from a suburban-rural sample (with 25% African-American), while boys reported similar levels of aggression across these two samples. The findings are very provocative and indicate the need for future studies to explore factors of ethnicity, school social dynamics, and broader neighborhood context on the development of aggression in peer interactions.

Comparison across three age groups (i.e., grades 1, 4 and 7) showed that children reported less use of physical aggression and more use of social aggression in grade 7 as compared to younger age groups. Children in grades 4 and 7 reported more use of verbal aggression than children in grade 1. In general, children's aggressive strategies appear to become diversified from childhood to adolescence. However, girls seem to employ diversified aggression strategies earlier than boys with conflicts among boys dominated by the use of physical aggression across all three age groups.

Boys who were reported by peers as using physical and/or verbal aggression had higher levels of social network centrality at school than non-aggressive boys. Girls using social aggression showed relatively higher levels of network centrality than non-aggressive girls. These findings suggest that aggression may be used by students to promote and maintain their social status at school.

School authorities were less likely to intervene with subtle forms of aggression (i.e., social and direct relational aggression) than overt forms of aggression (i.e., physical and verbal). These results suggest that to effectively prevent aggression and victimization at school, there may be a need for teachers to be more aware of subtle forms of aggression, and to develop effective strategies to control different forms of aggression. Moreover, given the potential function of aggression in promoting peer status at school, effective intervention requires sufficient efforts to manage the peer social dynamics at school.


Xie, H., Farmer, T. W., & Cairns, B. D. (in press). Different forms of aggression among inner-city African-American children: Gender, configurations, and school social networks. Journal of School Psychology.