Sex Roles, Vol. 53, Nos. 3/4, August 2005 (
Adolescent Girls’ Coping With Relational Aggression
Alison M. Remillard
and Sharon Lamb
This study was designed to examine coping strategies for relational aggression. Ninety-eight
female middle- and high-school students completed the Revised Ways of Coping Scale (Folk-
man & Lazarus, 1985) and reported characteristics of a relational aggressive act of which they
were the victim and characteristics of their friendship before and after the act. We explored
the relationship between characteristics of the relationally aggressive act and the method of
coping. Results of the study indicate that the more hurt the girl was by the aggression, the
more likely she was to use passive and avoidant coping strategies, such as wishful thinking.
The girls who felt closer to their friends after the aggressive act were the girls who coped by
seeking social support signiﬁcantly more often than any other type of coping strategy.
KEY WORDS: adolescents; girls; aggression; coping.
In the past decade, research on girls’ rela-
tional aggression has increased substantially (Brown,
2003; Crick & Nelson, 2002; Eder, 1990; Underwood,
2003). Although research on the topic has grown,
public attention has virtually exploded in response
to two best-selling books that received a tremendous
amount of press (Simmons, 2002; Wiseman, 2002).
Prior to this public interest, aggression was thought
typically to be male behavior and bullying a phe-
nomenon primarily between school boys, especially
in its physical or threatening form with a speciﬁc in-
tent to harm or intimidate (Crick & Nelson, 2002;
Grotpeter & Crick, 1996).
In academic and popular literature relational ag-
gression is frequently deﬁned as the intent to harm
another through the exploitation of a relationship.
Relationally aggressive acts include sarcastic verbal
comments, speaking to another in a cold or hostile
tone of voice, ignoring, staring, gossiping, spreading
rumors, “mean” facial expressions, and exclusion, all
acts aimed to damage the target’s social status or
self-esteem. A number of researchers have identiﬁed
relational aggression as more prevalent among girls
Department of Psychology, Saint Michael’s College, Colchester,
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than among boys. Crick and Nelson (2002) found that
girls reported signiﬁcantly greater levels of relational
than physical aggression within their friendships.
They noted that if they had asked only about phys-
ical aggression, the social aggression against 71.4%
of girls would have gone unreported. Lagerspetz,
Bjorkqvist, and Peltonen (1988) reported that re-
lational and indirect aggression is more frequently
seen in girls, whereas overt and direct aggression is
more frequently seen in boys. Similar results were
obtained by Crick and Grotpeter (1995), whose study
of relational and overt aggression in both genders
showed that girls display more relational aggression
than boys do. Galen and Underwood’s (1997) study
of social aggression showed similar results. More-
over, the girls in their study perceived social aggres-
sion as more hurtful than the boys did. Although
considered indirect in its action, relational aggres-
sion is direct in its effectiveness, and it appears to
cause both distress and psychological harm (Crick &
Nelson, 2002; Galen & Underwood, 1997; Grotpeter
& Crick, 1996; Underwood, Galen, & Paquette,
Many of the studies cited above have considered
relational aggression within a developmental con-
text. Galen and Underwood (1997) found that occur-
rences of social aggression increase with age among
girls. The reverse was found true for boys; as age
2005 Springer Science+Business Media, Inc.