Girls, as everyone knows, are more likely to gossip, exclude, and engage in other forms of so-called “relational aggression” than boys, who tend to prefer good old-fashioned direct confrontation as a means of resolving pressing schoolyard disputes. That’s the commonly held stereotype, at least, but a new study in the journal Aggressive Behavior suggests it may be false: “Mean boys” may be just as common as “mean girls.”
For the study, a team led by Pamela Orpinas of the University of Georgia followed a group of 620 students between 6th and 12th grade, using surveys conducted every year to get a sense of how often they dished out and were victimized by relational aggression. They found that, despite countless pop-culture treatments that would have you believe otherwise, boys were actually a bit more likely than girls to engage in relational aggression, and they significantly outnumbered girls among the kids engaging in moderate or high amounts of meanness. (Girls, however, were more likely to report having been targeted.)
This study, as the researchers point out, has limits: It was conducted on one relatively small group of kids in the Southeast U.S., rather than a large, nationally representative sample. But some other research has also cast doubt over the concept of girls being the primary relational aggressors in middle and high schools. It could be that there’s some confirmation bias going on: We’re so sure that girls are more into this kind of meanness than boys that that’s what we see when we observe everyday life. Doesn’t mean it’s true, though.