The more popular the girl, the more distressing the aggressive behavior

Mean acts by close friends were less distressing to adolescent girls than mean behavior by girls they did not have relationships with, according to research recently published in Communications Studies. The study was based on survey responses from 127 girls.

“Although it seems intuitive that mean acts committed by victims’ close friends would be more harmful, it is possible that a variety of factors contribute to the fact that participants’ responses did not support this claim,” the authors write.

Girls may interpret such acts differently with close friends or aggressive behavior may form part of the dynamic between friends, they note. Aggressive acts seem to be most distressing when they involve girls who are more popular than the victim, the researchers report.  These acts are more threatening to a girl’s social “face”, they theorize. Face is the positive social value a person effectively claims for oneself during an encounter with others, they write. The higher an individual’s social standing within his or her group, the greater his or her claim or entitlement to face.

“As predicted, mean acts were perceived by victims to be more face threatening when they were committed by girls who were more popular than participants,” the authors write. While the presence of witnesses (such as when comments are made in a class) did not add to girls’ distress, the girls reported greater levels of negative affect and saw it as more face-threatening if more than one person participated in the act.


“When ‘Sugar and Spice’ Turn to ‘Fire and Ice’: Factors Affecting the
Adverse Consequences of Relational Aggression among Adolescent Girls,” by Erin
Willer and William Cupach, Communication Studies, October-December 2008, pp.

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