Social aggression, also referred to as relational aggression, is defined as indirect bullying meant to ruin a person's reputation among peers. It is most often perpetrated by adolescents, although adults may also be culprits. The victims of this type of bullying often experience depression, increased self consciousness, and underperformance at school or work; the degree of harm often depends on the type of support a person receives from family and friends. These potential risks have prompted many schools to enforce rules against this form of bullying.
The term bullying typically refers to direct, confrontational attacks on another person and often violent in nature. Social aggression, however, typically lacks direct confrontation. It takes the form of spreading rumors, gossip, excluding one person from a group, verbal attacks such as teasing, and cyberbullying. Studies have found that those who are socially aggressive often lack self esteem or are incredibly self conscious; they typically utilize this form of bullying to protect their place among peers or place themselves above their peers.
Relational aggression typically runs rampant in middle school and high school and is often mistakenly attributed to females. Research has found that while young boys and men typically bully peers physically more than girls, both genders can be equally socially aggressive. Studies have found that in the U.S. alone, over 100,000 students miss school every day due to indirect bullying.
This type of bullying is often attributed solely to adolescents. While this may be true of more obvious forms of social aggression, it is also common among college students, in suburban neighborhoods, and the workplace. In adulthood, the most common form of this type of aggression is usually gossiping and spreading rumors. In general, the smaller the community, the more this issue occurs.
Relational aggression can have damaging effects on victims and in some cases may be fatal. Studies have found that adolescents who have been subjected to these types of attacks are more likely to develop depression and eating disorders. Relational aggression may also be responsible for a drop in academic performance and almost always harms a young adult's social life. Among adults, this aggression can limit job productivity and greatly reduce self esteem.
The effects of social aggression often depend on the amount of support a victim has outside of school or work. Children with supportive parents, caregivers, other adult figures, or friends tend to handle this type of bullying better than those without this foundation. In severe cases, indirect bullying can be a catalyst for suicidal thoughts or actions; in rare cases, it may cause a victim to take his or her own life.
Due to the potential damaging and life altering affects of social aggression, especially for young adults, many schools have adopted zero tolerance policies for bullying. Teachers and parents are taught to recognize signs of social aggression in both the perpetrator and victim. Perpetrators are typically punished and in extreme cases, may be suspended or expelled from school.