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Viewing relational aggression through multiple lenses: Temperament, personality, and personality pathology

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  22 July 2014

Jennifer L. Tackett*
University of Houston
Shauna C. Kushner
University of Toronto
Kathrin Herzhoff
University of Houston
Avante J. Smack
University of Houston
Kathleen W. Reardon
University of Houston
Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Jennifer L. Tackett, Department of Psychology, University of Houston, 126 Heyne Building, Houston, TX, 77204; E-mail:


Dispositional trait frameworks offer great potential to elucidate the nature and development of psychopathology, including the construct of relational aggression. The present study sought to explore the dispositional context of relational aggression across three dispositional frameworks: temperament, personality, and personality pathology. Participants comprised a large community sample of youth, aged 6 to 18 years (N = 1,188; 51.2% female). Ratings of children's relational aggression, temperament, personality, and personality pathology traits were obtained through parent report (86.3% mothers). Results showed convergence and divergence across these three dispositional frameworks. Like other antisocial behavior subtypes, relational aggression generally showed connections with traits reflecting negative emotionality and poor self-regulation. Relational aggression showed stronger connections with temperament traits than with personality traits, suggesting that temperament frameworks may capture more relationally aggressive content. Findings at the lower order trait level help differentiate relational aggression from other externalizing problems by providing a more nuanced perspective (e.g., both sociability and shyness positively predicted relational aggression). In addition, there was little evidence of moderation of these associations by gender, age, or age2, and findings remained robust even after controlling for physical aggression. Results are discussed in the broader context of conceptualizing relational aggression in an overarching personality-psychopathology framework.

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