An Experimental Analysis of Children's Dislike of Aggressors and Victims


We experimentally examined social contextual factors that might moderate children's dislike for aggressors and for victims of aggression, by varying both the aggressor's behavior (aggressive toward multiple children versus aggressive only toward one child) and the victim's behavior (passive versus assertive). Children (117 male and female fourth to sixth graders) listened to one of four scenarios describing the experiences of boys at a summer camp and rated how much they liked the aggressor, the victim, and the other children in the scenario; children also reported how much they thought the aggressor, victim, and others liked each other. Overall, and consistent with previous research, children disliked aggressors the most, followed by victims and then by the other children in the scenarios. Importantly, children's liking was influenced by the social context in which the aggression occurred, particularly in regards to how the victim responded. Aggressors (general or focused) were liked more if their victim was assertive rather than nonassertive. Furthermore, children liked nonassertive victims less than assertive victims, particularly a nonassertive victim in response to a general aggressor. Inferred liking among the group members also was dependent on the social context of the provocation. This research highlights the need to consider aggression as more than a set of behaviors. Aggression is a social event embedded within a social context and interpersonal relationships must be considered.

Publication Title

Social Development