Prospective Associations between Aggression/Bullying and Adjustment in Preschool: Is General Aggression Different from Bullying Behavior?

  • Jamie M. Ostrov
  • Kimberly E. Kamper-DeMarco
  • Sarah J. Blakely-McClure
  • Kristin J. Perry
  • Lauren Mutignani
Original Paper


In the current paper, two short-term longitudinal studies were conducted to examine relational aggression and relational bullying as differential predictors of relational victimization and health-related outcomes (i.e., social maladjustment problems). In Study 1, teachers completed reports of preschoolers’ (N = 124; M age = 44.88 months; SD = 4.52; 41.1% girls) physical and relational aggression, bullying behavior, and peer victimization at two time points. Hierarchical models revealed that, consistent with study hypotheses, relational aggression but not relational bullying predicted increases in relational victimization. Study 2 (N = 105; M age = 46.78 months; SD = 7.47; 52.4% girls) improved upon several limitations of Study 1 by having multiple informants and addressing collinearity concerns. Specifically, two variables were created, relational severity and relational directionality, reflecting the commonalities and differences between relational aggression and relational bullying respectively. Results of Study 2 generally replicated the overall pattern of findings of Study 1 with a more conservative model. Results indicated that relational directionality tended to be negatively associated with increases in social maladjustment problems. These results suggest that, relative to relational bullying, relational aggression tended to be associated with increases in social maladjustment problems. These findings provide support for distinguishing between subtypes of both aggression and bullying behavior (i.e., physical and relational) in the developmental literature.


Relational aggression Relational bullying Early childhood Social maladjustment problems 



We thank the UB Social Development Lab for their assistance with the two studies reported in this manuscript. We are grateful to the families, teachers, and administrators of participating schools. The second author is now at the Research Institute on Addictions, University at Buffalo. The fifth author is now at the Department of Psychological Science, University of Arkansas.


This study (Study 1) was funded by the National Science Foundation (BCS-1450777) as well as supplementary funding from the Baruch Family Foundation to the first author. Study 2 was funded in part by the Mark Diamond Fund to the second author. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official view of the National Science Foundation or other funders.

Author Contributions

J.M.O. designed and executed the studies, conducted the data analyses, and collaborated in the writing and editing of the manuscript. K.K.-D. assisted with the design, collection, and coordination of Study 2 and collaborated in the writing and editing of the manuscript. S.B.-M. assisted with the design, collection, and coordination of both studies and collaborated in the writing and editing of the manuscript. K.J.P. assisted with the collection and execution of Study 1 and collaborated in the writing and editing of the manuscript. L.M. was the project coordinator for Study 1 and collaborated in the writing and editing of the manuscript.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional research committee at the University at Buffalo, The State University of New York and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study. Prospective associations between aggression/bullying and adjustment in preschool: Is general aggression different from bullying behavior?

Supplementary material

10826_2018_1055_MOESM1_ESM.docx (21 kb)
Supplementary information Supplementary Table 1


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University at Buffalo, The State University of New YorkBuffaloUSA

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