This Is AuburnElectronic Theses and Dissertations

Relational Aggression in Emerging Adulthood: Association with Social Intelligence and the Moderating Role of Empathy




Loflin, Della C.

Type of Degree

Master's Thesis




Relational aggression is intended to harm others through manipulating and damaging their relationships using traditionally indirect means (Crick & Grotpeter, 1995). Evidence has shown that social intelligence and empathy are related to indirect aggression (Björkvist, Österman, & Kaukiainen, 2000), and may also be similarly associated with relational aggression. Furthermore, emerging adulthood, a distinct developmental period between the ages of 18 and 25 (Arnett, 2000), may be a period in which developmental changes facilitate relational aggression use (Smits Doumen, Luyckx, Duriez, & Goossens, 2011). It was hypothesized that empathy would moderate the relationship between social intelligence and relational aggression. Constructs were assessed via self-report, and data was analyzed using multiple linear regression analyses in Mplus. Empathic concern was found to moderate the relationship between proactive relational aggression and social awareness and social information processing. Lower empathetic concern was associated with greater proactive relational aggression in general. The relationship between social awareness and proactive relational aggression decreased at higher levels of empathetic concern, whereas a positive relationship between social information processing and relational aggression was found at high levels of empathic concern. The results of this study can help guide future research aimed at understanding the conditions in which relational aggression is more likely to occur, such as to help another individual (Buffone & Poulin, 2014) or in conjunction with normative beliefs about the acceptability of relational aggression (You & Bellmore, 2014).