Relational, Indirect, and Social Aggression: Measure Development for Emerging Adults

Nicole Lafko Breslend, University of Vermont


Research indicates that relational aggression, social aggression, and indirect aggression are important predictors and outcomes of social development (Archer & Coyne, 2005). Socially, indirectly, and relationally aggressive behaviors are utilized in order to harm an individual's social status, relationships, and/or social resources (Archer, & Coyne, 2005), but scholars disagree about the extent of the similarities and differences between these subtypes. Previous efforts to understand the distinction between these subtypes of aggression have been limited by how these behaviors have been operationalized and studied. The primary aim of the current study was to develop a self-report measure of these aggressive behaviors for emerging adults by utilizing factor analytic techniques to examine existing and newly created items. A series of five stages was used to code all items into existing theoretical categories of behavior (e.g., social aggression), establish the factor structure of the items, select the best items to measure each factor, test measurement invariance across subgroups (e.g., men and women), ensure strong psychometric properties, and relate the final factor structure to relevant developmental correlates (e.g., depressive symptoms).

Three independent samples of emerging adults aged 18 - 29 years (49.51% - 52.33% women; Mage= 25.71 - 26.26) were recruited online through Amazon's Mechanical Turk (sample 1 N = 299; sample 2 N = 299; sample 3 N = 119). Indirect, social, and relational aggression items were selected and adapted from existing self-report measures of these constructs for adults and several new items were created from qualitative interviews with emerging adults.

Through a rigorous theoretical, methodological, and statistical approach, the Relational/Social Aggression in Adulthood Measure (RSAAM) was developed. The final factor structure consisted of three factors: Ignoring, Gossip, and Relational Manipulation. The three factors demonstrated measurement invariance across gender and educational groups and strong internal consistency and test-retest reliability. Purely relationally manipulative behaviors were distinct from other, related behaviors (i.e., ignoring, gossip) and were also differentially related to developmental correlates. Findings suggest that it may be advantageous for researchers to move beyond broad theoretical definitions of relational and social aggression and instead focus on the specific aggressive behaviors being enacted.