Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph. D.


Social Work

Degree Program

Social Work, PhD

Committee Chair

Frey, Andy

Committee Co-Chair (if applicable)

Moore, Sharon

Committee Member

Barber, Gerard

Committee Member

Perry, Armon

Committee Member

Studts, Christina


Aggressiveness in children; Bullying in schools; Harassment in schools


This dissertation is a study of relational aggression (RA) in school settings. RA is a nonphysical type of aggression where the intent is to harm relationships and the social standing of a targeted peer. Examples include social exclusion, gossip, spreading rumors and the silent treatment. RA has negative consequences for both perpetrators and victims, and is associated with friendship problems, peer rejection, depression, anxiety, poor academic performance and dropout. RA is stable and reaches its peak in middle school, continuing into adulthood. In order to address RA, this dissertation argues that early intervention is necessary with young children as early as preschool. The purpose of this study is to explore the efficacy of a broad-based intervention in reducing RA levels in young children. Chapter One provides an overview of RA, including definitions and significance. The development of RA has been associated with its use by parents and older siblings, social information processing deficits in children entering preschool and socioeconomic status. Methods of measuring RA include teacher report, peer nomination and observation. Chapter Two presents the major tenets of social learning theory, asserting that young children learn RA from their home and neighborhood environments, while school settings may enhance or inhibit these behaviors, depending upon various reinforcement strategies. Chapter Three reviews RA interventions that have been developed for early childhood and elementary settings, with less than definitive findings. Chapter Four describes the Preschool First Step (PFS) intervention (Feil et al., 2015), and methods for the current study. In order to explore the potential efficacy of PFS, this study addressed the following research questions: 1) Is the PFS intervention efficacious in reducing RA? 2) Do the effects of the PFS intervention differ for children with elevated levels of RA? Chapter Five presents hypotheses and results. While ANCOVA and ANOVA analyses did not yield significant findings for the intervention group, a responder analysis showed that more children in the intervention group improved, and twice as many children in the control group deteriorated. Chapter Six concludes the study with implications, limitations and suggestions for future research.

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