Sex Differences in Physical and Indirect Aggression: A Developmental Perspective

  • Sylvana M. CôtéEmail author


Males generally use aggression more often than females. However, the magnitude of difference between the sexes varies widely according to the type of aggression that is considered, and according to the developmental period studied. Taking a developmental perspective, this paper reviews research that compares the progression of physical aggression (predominantly used by males) with indirect aggression (predominantly used by females) among males and females. Existing empirical evidence indicates that most children cease to use physical aggression during the course of childhood, but that a minority fails to do so. This group is comprised of children with high, stable levels of PA and is mostly male. Overall, most children use low levels of IA, but there is one group that uses this type of aggression with increasing frequency. This group is mostly female. Importantly, the differences between the sexes are not stable over time. Rather, while the gap between males and females is present during preschool years, it widens considerably during childhood and preadolescence. A review of hypotheses based on evolution, biology and social learning provides critical insight into the origins and development of sex differences in aggression over the life course. We conclude by arguing that violence in males may be effectively reduced through early, sustained intervention with high-risk mothers.


Sex differences Physical aggression Indirect aggression Development Antisocial behaviors 


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.GRIPUniversité de MontréalMontréal, QuébecCanada
  2. 2.Social and Preventive MedicineUniversity of MontréalMontréal, QuébecCanada
  3. 3.Faculty of Social SciencesUtrecht UniversityUtrechtNetherlands

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