Skip to main content

Relational Aggression

  • Reference work entry


Covert bullying; Indirect aggression; Relational bullying; Social aggression


Relational aggression is the use of exclusionary and/or other nonphysical behaviors to undermine another person’s self-esteem or group status.


Relational aggression involves the intent to harm another person through nonphysical injury to or manipulation of relationships. Relationally aggressive behaviors can be covert (i.e., spreading rumors, gossiping, ignoring, excluding) or overt (e.g., directly telling a peer, “If you don’t do what I say, I won’t be your friend”). Similarly, relational aggression can be reactive in that it occurs in response to feeling angry or threatened, or it can serve an instrumental purpose in getting what one wants.

Both males and females engage in relational aggression. While it is a commonly held belief that females exhibit higher levels of relational aggression than males, research addressing gender differences in prevalence rates has yielded...

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution.

Buying options

USD   29.95
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • Available as PDF
  • Read on any device
  • Instant download
  • Own it forever
USD   949.00
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • Available as EPUB and PDF
  • Read on any device
  • Instant download
  • Own it forever
Hardcover Book
USD   549.99
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • Durable hardcover edition
  • Dispatched in 3 to 5 business days
  • Free shipping worldwide - see info

Tax calculation will be finalised at checkout

Purchases are for personal use only

Learn about institutional subscriptions


  1. Crick, N. R., & Grotpeter, J. K. (1996). Children’s treatment by peers: Victims of relational and overt aggression. Development and Psychopathology, 8, 367–380.

    Google Scholar 

  2. Merrell, K. W., Buchanan, R., & Tran, O. K. (2006). Relational aggression in children and adolescents: A review with implications for school settings. Psychology in Schools, 43(3), 345–360.

    Google Scholar 

  3. OSEP Technical Assistance Center for Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports. What is school-wide PBS? Retrieved, September 22, 2008, from

  4. Young, E. L., Boye, A. E., & Nelson, D. A. (2006). Relational aggression: Understanding, identifying, and responding in schools. Psychology in Schools, 43(3), 297–312.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Kristin D. Sawka-Miller PhD .

Editor information

Editors and Affiliations

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

Copyright information

© 2011 Springer Science+Business Media, LLC

About this entry

Cite this entry

Sawka-Miller, K.D. (2011). Relational Aggression. In: Goldstein, S., Naglieri, J.A. (eds) Encyclopedia of Child Behavior and Development. Springer, Boston, MA.

Download citation

  • DOI:

  • Publisher Name: Springer, Boston, MA

  • Print ISBN: 978-0-387-77579-1

  • Online ISBN: 978-0-387-79061-9

  • eBook Packages: Behavioral Science

Publish with us

Policies and ethics