Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name


Degree Program




Major Professor

Frick, Paul

Second Advisor

Hammer, Jill Hayes

Third Advisor

Cruise, Keith

Fourth Advisor

Scaramella, Laura

Fifth Advisor

Goldstein, Sara


In the current study, we investigated the association between relational aggression and measures of delinquency and overt aggression in a sample of detained adolescent girls. We also tested the validity of the distinction between reactive and proactive subtypes of relational aggression by testing their independent associations with important emotional, behavioral, personality, social, and cognitive variables that have been studied in past research and found to be important for distinguishing between reactive and proactive overt aggression. Our sample consisted of 58 predominantly African-American (78%) adolescent girls recruited from three juvenile detention centers in the southeastern United States. Participants ranged in age from 12 to 18 (Mn = 14.98; SD = 1.30). Relational aggression was measured using both self-report and observation, while overt aggression, delinquency, and social-psychological variables were measured using self-report only. As predicted, both self-reported and observed relational aggression were associated with higher rates of self-reported delinquency. Self-reported relational aggression was also associated with self-reported overt aggression, while observed relational aggression was not. On a self-report rating scale, we found evidence for four subscales that were moderately correlated and had good internal consistency. These subscales corresponded to the four aggressive subtypes (i.e., reactive overt, reactive relational, proactive overt, proactive relational). Further, we found evidence for divergence between reactive and proactive relational aggression on emotional dysregulation, CU traits, and positive outcome expectations for aggression, supporting the hypothesis that these are important subtypes that could involve distinct developmental processes, similar to reactive and proactive subtypes of overt aggression. Finally, this study found that relational aggression accounted for unique variance in callous and unemotional (CU) traits among detained girls, even after controlling for levels of overt aggression. The current findings highlight the importance of assessing relational aggression in detained girls and could have implications for designing more successful interventions for girls in the juvenile justice system.


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