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Gender and Aggression

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Gender and Aggression

Gender is a term that refers to the scale between masculinity and femininity. Where one lands on this scale can determine their gender, as some people lean more towards the feminine side of gender, whilst others lean more towards the masculine side.

Social and cultural norms affect gender, unlike the biological sex. Until recently, gender seemed to be more confined to the idea of one or the other, much like the sexes, male or female. Nowadays, this is not the case.

Gender differs and can cover a broad range of identities.

What is the relationship between gender and aggression in psychology? This article will address how gender relates to aggression and the aggression and gender differences in crime.

What are the gender differences in aggression?

Björkqvist (2018), in their review of the gender differences in aggression, found the following to be consistently true:

  1. Boys use more physical aggression.

  2. In proportion to their overall aggression scores, girls used more indirect aggression.

  3. Both genders use direct verbal aggression equally.

Considering the genders mentioned are equally aggressive in some areas but more aggressive in others, we must establish the different styles of aggression. Our other articles touched upon these, covering aggression more thoroughly.

Evaluation of different types of aggression in gender

Indirect aggression is aggression that the person subjected to may not easily identify (sometimes referred to as relational or social aggression).

According to Björkqvist (2018), indirect aggression is a form of social manipulation intended to psychologically and/or socially harm the person. This aggression can be through gossip, manipulating social standings within a group, or even excluding a person altogether.

  • Lagerspetz et al. (1988): This study investigated gender differences and aggressive behaviour.

    • 167 school children aged 11 to 12 years participated in the study. Researchers used Peer rating techniques, supported by self-ratings and interviews. They also studied social hierarchy.

    • Overall, they found that girls used more indirect aggressive behaviour means than boys who used different means.

    • Verbal aggression differences between the genders were less pronounced.

    • Social hierarchy was ‘tighter’ amongst girls, making it easier for them to manipulate relationships and harm those subject to indirect aggression.

    • This study suggests that girls use more indirect means of aggression, as stated above, compared to boys, a difference established in the genders.

  • Björkqvist et al. (1992): In this study, referencing the above research by Lagerspetz et al. (1988), they further investigated these differences, looking at different ages.

    • They investigated 8-year-olds, 11-year-olds, and 15-year-olds. Different aggressive behaviours were measured with peer nomination techniques and supported by self-ratings. They considered social hierarchy again.

    • They found that older girls had greater overall use of indirect aggression.

    • Boys use more direct means of aggression. This was thought to be physical, differing from the girl’s preference of verbal.

    • Indirect aggression wasn’t as present in 8-year-old girls but was prominent in 11-year-old girls.

    • This finding supports the first study in that girls tend to use more indirect methods of aggression, although this seems to develop more so with age.

  • Österman et al. (1998): This study investigated the above results to see if they were applied across cultures instead of only applying the above cultures researched in the respective studies.

    • They compared the ages groups (8, 11, and 15-year-olds) from Finland to Italy, Israel, and Poland.

    • They found that girls primarily used indirect aggression, similar to the previous studies, across nations and ethnic groups.

    • Verbal aggression was the second most used style, and physical the least often used by girls.

    • In boys, indirect aggression was the least used style in all ages, whilst physical and verbal aggression was used almost equally, and verbal surpassed physical by the age of 15.

    • This supports the studies and suggests that this is a reliable and valid finding. It is applicable across cultures and ethnicities, suggesting girls are different to boys when it comes to methods of aggression.

With the above studies, boys had a higher total aggression score than girls. Thus, their overall indirect aggression may have been equal to girls, but less than their preferred method of aggression, such as physical or verbal. Incidentally, it implies they are indirectly less aggressive, which may not be the case. It is just that when compared to girls, when the levels are altered to be comparable, it suggests girls are more indirectly aggressive. Girls overall are less aggressive but prefer to use indirect aggression regardless.

Are boys more aggressive than girls?

According to a meta-analysis by Card et al. (2008), as mentioned above, boys are more aggressive than girls, even when considering the above indirect aggression phenomenon.

Boys had similar levels of indirect aggression to girls, and they tended to prefer more direct means of aggression: verbal and physical.

This finding can unfairly suggest girls are ‘indirectly aggressive’, inferring this is what their gender is known for, when in reality, boys are just as indirectly aggressive, and they are more aggressive overall. It would be better to say that indirect aggression is more ‘typical’ for girls, but it would be incorrect to say that girls are more aggressive indirectly than boys.

Gender and Aggression Fighting Boys StudySmarterAggression in boys, Flaticon

Aggression and gender differences in crime

Many studies have shown that men are more likely to commit crimes and violent, aggressive acts compared to women. This could be due to how each gender has developed their social cognition and coping skills. Exposure to stressful events and certain risk factors that may lead to future problems depends on the cognitive processing abilities of both sexes.

When their social cognitive abilities are put to the test, studies show that men in this category are more likely to fail when it comes to finding an appropriate response to a triggering situation. This usually occurs because of a misperceived threat risk, usually to themselves on personal, social, and environmental levels. Appropriate social cognitive skills are believed to be a contributing factor to the reduced development of criminal behaviours.

For example, Bennett et al. (2005) argue that women develop social-cognitive skills earlier than men and are therefore better able to deal with triggering situations, which in turn reduces the likelihood of engaging in criminal and violent/aggressive behaviours. This is because the situations that could potentially lead to a ‘life of crime’ are appropriately managed. Men are more inclined to not deal with them appropriately and are therefore more likely to react aggressively.

Gender and Aggression Aggression and gender differences in crime StudySmarterAggressionand gender differences in crime, Freepik

Genetic differences in gender and aggression

The studies mentioned above demonstrate a genetic difference between male and female aggression, suggesting that girls are more prone to indirect aggression compared to boys. Aside from these studies, there may be other things to consider regarding genetic differences.

Typically, a male will have the XY chromosomes, and a female will have XX chromosomes.

In a study by Hauschka et al. (1962), a male was found to have the XYY chromosomes and dubbed the super-male. They then suggested that this XYY phenomenon could cause aggression, as the super-male tended to be more aggressive and less intelligent.

However, this does not mean that the above conclusion can be applied to the general population as a whole. The above condition is extremely rare, and thus, does not explain the gender differences in aggression in the population.

Gender and Aggression Chromosomes StudySmarterHuman male Karyotyp, Wikimedia Commons

Something else to consider is the prenatal hormone environment of the person; as Hines (2005) established, this stage of life appears to be a powerful determinant of behavioural differences, which can be ascribed to gender.

Overall, gender studies into aggression have similar problems to other genetic studies focused around aggression, namely:

  • Reductionist: a gender-focused outlook into the origins and behaviours of aggression (i.e., boys vs girls) causes de-individuation issues and reduces the impact of societal influences. If a boy is encouraged to be more ‘masculine’ and engage in ‘masculine’ behaviours, which some may interpret as aggressive behaviours, it would not be fair to genes exclusively cause these behaviours. Similarly, the opposite can be said for lack of aggressive behaviours. If boys or girls are discouraged from engaging in any behaviours deemed aggressive by society, it would be unfair to say their genes are the cause.

  • Deterministic: Gender views tend to ignore the concept of free will in humans. People make their own decisions and have control over their behaviours. Suggesting gender differences are the sole cause of aggressive behaviours is inaccurate and ignores daily life nuances.


Gender and Aggression - Key takeaways

  • Gender is a term that refers to the scale between masculinity and femininity. Gender, unlike the biological sex, is affected by social and cultural norms.
  • Björkqvist (2018), in their review of the gender differences in aggression, found the following to be consistently true: boys use more physical aggression, girls, in proportion to their overall aggression scores, used more indirect aggression, both genders use direct verbal aggression equally.
  • Girls tend to be more indirectly aggressive in their behaviours, which was true across cultures and ethnicities.
  • Boys, however, are more aggressive overall. They tend to prefer more direct methods of aggression (physical and verbal). Boys were indirectly aggressive to a similar extent to girls, so they are equally likely to be indirectly aggressive.
  • The XYY chromosome may suggest that the ‘super-male’ alludes to boys being more aggressive. However, it is a rare condition and therefore cannot be applied to the general population.

Frequently Asked Questions about Gender and Aggression

Gender appears to affect the different types of aggression a person chooses to enact. For instance, girls prefer being indirectly aggressive, and boys prefer direct aggression. Boys tend to be more aggressive than girls.

Females tend to use indirect aggression forms (malicious gossip, manipulation of social hierarchies), whereas males tend to be directly aggressive (physical and verbal aggression). However, both males and females tend to be equally verbally aggressive.

There is a significant difference between genders on their preferred methods of aggression, although, in some regards, both genders are equally aggressive, such as in verbal aggression. Boys overall are more aggressive than girls.

Depending on the literature, the most common answer is physical aggression, mental aggression, verbal aggression, and emotional aggression.

Males tend to be more aggressive than females.

Final Gender and Aggression Quiz

Question

What is gender referring to?

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Answer

Gender is a term that refers to the scale between masculinity and femininity.

Show question

Question

What is gender subject to when compared to biological sex?

Show answer

Answer

Gender, unlike the biological sex, is affected by social and cultural norms.

Show question

Question

What did Björkqvist (2018) find in their review concerning the differences between boys and girls and aggression?

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Answer

Boys use more physical aggression. In proportion to their overall aggression scores, girls use more indirect aggression. Both genders use direct verbal aggression equally. 

Show question

Question

What is indirect aggression?

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Answer

The person subjected to it may not easily identify indirect aggression.

Show question

Question

How did Björkqvist (2018) define indirect aggression?

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Answer

According to Björkqvist (2018), indirect aggression is a form of social manipulation intended to psychologically and/or socially harm the person. This aggression can be through gossip, manipulating social standings within a group, or even excluding a person altogether.

Show question

Question

What did Lagerspetz et al. (1988) find in their study?

Show answer

Answer

Overall, they found that girls used more indirect aggressive behaviour than boys who used different means. Social hierarchy was ‘tighter’ amongst girls, making it easier to manipulate relationships and harm those subject to indirect aggression.

Show question

Question

What did Björkqvist et al. (1992) find in their study?

Show answer

Answer

Older girls had greater overall use of indirect aggression. Boys used more direct means of aggression. They thought it was physical, differing from the girl’s preference of verbal.

Show question

Question

How did Björkqvist et al. (1992) develop on Lagerspetz et al. (1988) study?

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Answer

They included more ages, ranging from 8, 11, to 15-year-olds.

Show question

Question

What differences did Björkqvist et al. (1992) find between younger and older girls in their study?

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Answer

Indirect aggression wasn’t as present in 8-year-old girls but was prominent in 11-year-old girls.

Show question

Question

What did Österman et al. (1998) find in their study?

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Answer

They found that girls mostly used indirect aggression, similar to the previous studies, across nations and ethnic groups.

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Question

How did Österman et al. (1998) improve upon the previous studies?

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Answer

They applied the studies to different countries to establish if the gender differences in aggression were cross-cultural.

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Question

Are boys less indirectly aggressive than girls?

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Answer

No. They were equally indirectly aggressive. Girls just preferred this method of aggression, and boys preferred more direct methods.

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Question

Are boys more aggressive?

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Answer

According to multiple studies, boys overall had higher scores and aggression levels than girls.

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Question

Which study discussed the idea that boys are more aggressive overall?

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Answer

Card et al. (2005).

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Question

What did Hauschka et al. (1962) find in their study?

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Answer

They found the existence of the super-male chromosome.

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