Preschoolers’ normative and prescriptive judgments about relational and overt aggression

Sara E. Goldstein, Marie S. Tisak, Paul Boxer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

58 Scopus citations


The present study examines preschoolers’ judgments about responses to hypothetical aggressive provocation. Ninety-nine preschool children were read two stories, one depicting an overt provocation and the other depicting a relational provocation. Following each story, children were interviewed to assess their normative (what a peer would do) and prescriptive (what a peer should do) judgments about the victim’s behavior. Additionally, perceptions about the relative degree of badness of different types of aggressive responses (physical, verbal, and relational) to the provocation were assessed. The results showed several significant effects with respect to aggression type, age, participant gender, and story-character gender. For example, in both of the provocation situations, participants reported that overtly aggressive responses (physical and verbal) would happen more often than they should happen. Moreover, in both the provocation situations, participants felt that relationally aggressive responses were more acceptable than verbally or physically aggressive responses. Additionally, female participants rated the relationally aggressive response as more wrong than did the male participants, but only in the relational provocation situation. The present results have important implications for the classroom setting. For example, teachers may address the subject of relationally harmful acts with their preschool-aged students.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)23-40
Number of pages18
JournalEarly Education and Development
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2002


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