Gender differences in aggressiveness

  • we distinguish between hostile, instrumental and assertive aggressiveness
  • girls and boys do not differ in potential, but in the nature of their aggressiveness
  • boys tend to be more physically and assertively aggressive
  • girls tend to be more instrumental aggressive
Overview of topics:
Types of aggressiveness
Aggressiveness in children

Aggressiveness is the willingness of an organism to behave aggressively against its own kind1.

Now we want to find out whether the aggressiveness differs between the sexes and whether these differences are innate. But first we will discuss the three types of aggressiveness and then we take a look at what we know about aggressive behaviour by children. Kid´s impulses are least overwritten by learning and therefore their behavior is a better indication of innate tendencies.

Types of aggressiveness

Hostile aggressiveness

Hostile aggression is driven by the motivation to harm someone. This form of aggressiveness occurs only in humans, since no other species has the cognitive prerequisites. For a deliberate damage of someone else, you must have an understanding for their subjective experience.

Assertive aggressiveness

The goal of assertive aggressiveness is the submission of the opponent. We know it above all from males, who compete for the favor of females and thereby meet competitors. Assertive aggression causes showmanship behaviour like showing off strength, intimidating, threatening, being loud and everything else that helps to make the opponent give up. In humans, too, assertive aggressiveness is predominantly seen in the male sex (d=0.5)2.

Instrumental aggressiveness

Instrumental or also reactive aggressiveness develops out of frustration and was shown more by females, for example in conflicts concerning food intake, with strangers or in the defence of their young. For such reasons, females also attacked males and showed considerable aggressive potential. In addition, females were less restrained by bite inhibitions than males, whose behavior was more a show. Fierce fights between females were rare, but injuries comparable to those of males3.

Aggressiveness in children

Although the young lives of children are still the least shaped by their environment, we must remember that children are most dependent on their environment. Thus, their incentive to show the likable behaviour is high – consciously or unconsciously.

Aggressiveness in boys

Boys have a lower tolerance for frustration. Due to their impulsiveness, they are less able to think in peace4. That doesn´t necessarily mean that boys are more often frustrated, but they are clearly more prone to physical aggression (d=0.74) than girls. Accordingly, boys in their second year of life are already as much more aggressive as they will be their entire childhood and puberty (observational studies d=0.53, peer assessments d=0.84)5. In kindergarten, boys are punished three times more often and thus receive attention for aggressive behaviour. At the same time, the aggression in girls tends to be ignored6. Boys show assertive behaviour early on. Also, they provoke and want to find out how far they can go. If they don´t meet limits, it might escalate7. In young adults, four times as many boys are subject to criminal proceedings for acts of violence.

Aggressiveness in girls

Girls from already from the age of 21 months react later to conflicts and take time to think about it. Additionally, they tend to withdraw in fights over an object8. In such situations they tend to question their relationship to the conflict partner. According to Bischof-Köhler 2006 and other sources, this behaviour has a blackmailing character. Since girls tend to define their self-esteem more by their social relationships, it makes sense for them to question the relationship in a dispute more likely. The threat of breaking a relationship, however, carries the risk of making oneself unpopular, which one can only avoid with a certain degree of manipulation. Relationship-aggressive children are not necessarily among the most popular, but also among the most influential or status-highest individuals.

» next topic:

Self-esteem – How do the sexes differ?

This is a very important topic! If we were to highlight ONE very important cause of today’s gender inequality, it would be self-esteem. Why? Learn more now »

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  1. request 21.07.2019
  2. Bischof-Köhler 2006, S. 128
  3. Feingold 1994
  4. Rubble & Martin 1998
  5. Hyde 1984 nach Bischof-Köhler 2006
  6. Hyde & Schuck 1977 nach Bischof-Köhler 2006
  7. Bischof-Köhler 2006, S. 279
  8. Coie & Dodge 1998 nach Bischof-Köhler 2006

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