Aggressive, disruptive kids turn conflict into status, study shows

Popularity is important for children and teenagers. Some believe that being popular is more important than having friends, because popularity is a marker of prestige, dominance, and social status. Some children become popular through prosocial means. Other popular kids, paradoxically, are disruptive and aggressive.

A longitudinal study by researchers at Florida Atlantic University tested the new hypothesis that aggressive and disruptive children engage in frequent conflict with classmates to strengthen their position in the group and increase their popularity.

The results of the study, published in the journal Personality and individual differences, found that higher baseline levels of peer-reported aggression and disruptiveness were associated with increases in peer-reported popularity over the course of a semester, particularly for children who reported frequent disagreements with their peers. peers.

Since aggression usually occurs in the context of conflict, it follows that conflicts with aggressive children carry an implicit threat of harm. To avoid aggression, classmates are likely to submit, which provides visible evidence of dominance and promotes short-term gains in popularity.

“While we think controversy alone is unlikely to be a foundation for popularity, it can signal to peers a willingness to deploy discord to achieve one’s ends,” said Brett Laursen, Ph.D. , senior author and professor of psychology at FAU’s Charles E. . Schmidt College of Science. “Because conflict contains the potential for escalation, it amplifies the dangers that can arise when aggressive and disruptive children are encountered. Aggressive children who are frequently in conflict do not always need to resort to coercion; simple prospect of disagreeable behavior can persuade others to submit.”

Study participants included a diverse sample of Florida children, ages 8 to 12, attending an elementary school whose population mirrored that of public school students in the state in terms of ethnicity and socio-economic status. economic.

“A similar process seems to work for disruptive children, although less pronounced. Submission in response to a disagreement with a disruptive child avoids irritating classmates who are aware of the risks of upsetting someone who is ready to disrupt the band to get what they want.” said Lauren.

The researchers point out that conflict in and of itself is not a means to achieve peer status. However, they say it can be an effective tool that amplifies the remarkable attributes that underlie certain forms of popularity.

“We’re not claiming that conflict used in this way is a healthy pathway to wellness. The consequences of conflict depend on the context, the goals, and how it’s handled,” Laursen said. “We argue, however, that disagreement can be an effective social strategy that leverages the implicit threat of coercion toward dominance, boosting popularity through callbacks rather than outright displays of aggression and disruption.”

The study’s other co-authors are graduate student Michael Yoho; and Sharon Faur, PhD student, FAU Department of Psychology.

This research was supported by a grant from the American Institute of Child Health and Human Development, National Institutes of Health (HD096457) awarded to Laursen.

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Material provided by Florida Atlantic University. Original written by Gisèle Galoustian. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.