FRIDAY, Dec. 5, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- "Mean boys" are a bigger problem than "mean girls" in middle and high school, a new study suggests.
The findings challenge the widely held belief that girls are more likely than boys to use what's called relational aggression -- malicious rumors, social exclusion and rejection -- to hurt or control peers, the researchers said.
The study tracked 620 students in six northeast Georgia school districts who completed yearly surveys as they progressed from grade six to 12. In every grade, boys were more likely than girls to use relational aggression, the researchers found.
"Overall, we found relational aggression to be a very common behavior," study leader Pamela Orpinas, a professor of health promotion and behavior at the University of Georgia College of Public Health, said in a university news release. "Almost all of the students surveyed, 96 percent, had passed a rumor or made a nasty comment about someone over the course of the seven-year study."
More than 90 percent of the students also reported that they had been victims of relational aggression at least once, according to the study, recently published online in the journal Aggressive Behavior.
"We have books, websites and conferences aimed at stopping girls from being aggressive, as well as a lot of qualitative research on why girls are relationally aggressive," Orpinas said. "But oddly enough, we don't have enough research on why boys would be relationally aggressive because people have assumed it's a girl behavior."
She and her colleagues called for more studies on boys and relational aggression, and for programs to reduce the problem among boys and girls.
"In the end, I think we need to ask how we can focus on increasing the positive interactions among kids rather than the negative ones, because the kids that students admire are often the ones who are fun and positive about others," Orpinas said.
The U.S. National Institute of Child Health and Human Development has more about bullying.