Should social aggression be considered "antisocial"?

S. Alexandra Burt*, M. Brent Donnellan, Jennifer L. Tackett

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

43 Scopus citations


There is converging evidence that physical aggression and non-aggressive rule-breaking constitute meaningfully distinct, if somewhat overlapping, dimensions of antisocial behavior, with different developmental trajectories, demographic correlates, and etiologies. Social aggression can also be factor-analytically and demographically distinguished from physically aggressive and rule-breaking antisocial behavior. However, there is ongoing debate as to whether social aggression should also be considered "antisocial" in the way the term is commonly understood, given that socially aggressive behaviors are generally legal and nearly normative during adolescence. The current study sought to empirically evaluate the notion that social aggression constitutes a form of antisocial behavior that is separable from other forms of antisocial behavior. We thus conducted a preliminary study to examine whether social aggression was associated with other forms of antisocial behavior and a variety of correlates of antisocial behavior in a sample of 497 undergraduates. Analyses revealed that social aggression was independently associated with other measures of antisocial behavior, substance use and unethical behaviors, as well as the personality traits known to predict current and future antisocial behavior. These associations were particularly pronounced in women. Such findings are consistent with our hypothesis that social aggression constitutes a distinct form of antisocial behavior.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)153-163
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Psychopathology and Behavioral Assessment
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2012


  • Antisocial behavior
  • Physical aggression
  • Rulebreaking
  • Social aggression

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Psychology


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