Prospective Associations between Peer Aggression and Victimization: The Moderating Roles of Physiological Stress Reactivity and Gender


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Abstract

The present investigation examined whether heightened skin conductance reactivity (SCLR) to peer stress strengthened the prospective associations between physical and relational aggression and victimization, and whether associations were stronger for physical forms of aggression and victimization among boys and relational forms of aggression and victimization among girls. A total of 91 children [M age = 10.18 years, standard deviation (SD) = .68] were assessed twice over 1 year. At the first assessment, SCLR in response to recounting a relational stressor (e.g., exclusion; SCLR-R) and an instrumental stressor (e.g., property theft; SCLR-I), and teacher-reported aggression were measured. Parents reported on child victimization at both time points. Among youth with heightened SCLR-I, physical aggression was associated with increases in physical victimization for boys and decreases in physical victimization for girls. Among youth with heightened SCLR-R, relational aggression was associated with increases in physical victimization for girls only. Results were largely consistent with the hypothesis that aggressors with a propensity to exhibit negative displays of emotion, as indexed by heightened sympathetic nervous system (SNS) reactivity to peer stress, may be especially likely to suffer peer victimization. Gender-specific effects highlight the importance of including both physical and relational forms of aggression and victimization to capture victimization risk among aggressive boys and girls.

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