When it comes to aggression, boys are physical and girls are social, it is said, but a new analysis of almost 150 studies of aggression in children and adolescents has found that there's more overlap than stereotypes lead us to believe.

Physical aggression - hitting - is something boys are more likely to do while girls are more likely to spread rumors, gossip, and intentionally exclude others, called indirect, relational, or social aggression.

The analysis of 148 studies, which comprised almost 74,000 children and adolescents and were carried out largely in schools, looked at both direct aggression and indirect aggression and was conducted by Noel A. Card, assistant professor of family studies and human development at the University of Arizona, and researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the University of Kansas.

"These conclusions challenge the popular misconception that indirect aggression is a female form of aggression," according to Card.

The researchers suggest that the myth that girls are more likely to be indirectly or socially aggressive than boys has persisted among teachers, parents, and even other researchers because of social expectations that develop early in life and recent movies and books that portray girls as mean and socially aggressive toward one another.

Based on the analysis, the researchers suggest that children who carry out one form of aggression may be inclined to carry out the other form; this is seen more in boys than in girls. They also found ties between both forms of aggression and adjustment problems.

Specifically, direct aggression is related to problems like delinquency and ADHD-type symptoms, poor relationships with peers, and low prosocial behavior such as helping and sharing. In contrast, indirect aggression is related to problems like depression and low self-esteem, as well as higher prosocial behavior—perhaps because a child must use prosocial skills to encourage peers to exclude or gossip about others.

The study was funded, in part, by the National Institute of Health.

Article: Child Development, Vol. 79, Issue 5, Direct and Indirect Aggression during Childhood and Adolescence: A Meta-Analytic Review of Gender Differences, Intercorrelations, and Relations to Maladjustment by Card, NA (University of Arizona), Stucky, BD (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill), Sawalani, GM, and Little, TD (University of Kansas).