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Aggressive Female Behavior

author image Erin Beck
Erin Beck began writing professionally in 2008 as an opinion columnist for the West Virginia University student newspaper, "The Daily Athenaeum." She has worked in health promotion at the university and as a communications intern at the National Alliance on Mental Illness. She has a Bachelor of Science in journalism and a Master of Public Health, both from West Virginia University.
Aggressive Female Behavior
A chess player knocking down a pawn with the queen playing piece. Photo Credit Ryan McVay/Photodisc/Getty Images

Aggression in females may be different than anger in males, especially in children. Aggression refers to the intentional infliction of harm on one person by another. It can be direct, including verbal or physical aggression, or indirect.


Verbal aggression is the infliction of harm through words, such as name-calling or criticizing. Physical aggression aims to inflict harm through methods like pushing, kicking or hitting. Indirect aggression involves manipulation, and the identity of the aggressor is more difficult to determine. People who use this type may attempt to harm others by damaging their relationships, possibly by damaging another person's friendships or peer inclusion. Direct aggression is more common than indirect aggression among both males and females, according to a 2004 meta-analysis published by John Archer in the "Review of General Psychology."


Among 11- and 12-year-old children, girls may be more likely to use indirect forms of aggression than physical aggression, according to a 1988 study published by Kirsti M. J. Lagerspetz and colleagues in "Aggressive Behavior." Differences regarding verbal aggression are less pronounced. In a study of third through sixth grade children, girls were also more likely to use relational, or indirect, aggression, according to a 1995 study published by Nicki R. Crick and Jennifer K. Grotpeter in "Child Development." Those who are relationally aggressive are at risk for adjustment difficulties and report higher ratings of loneliness, depression and isolation. As adults, rates of indirect aggression may be equal among women and men, according to the 2004 meta-analysis published by John Archer in the "Review of General Psychology."


Hormones and genetics contribute to female aggression. A 2003 study published by Elizabeth Cashdan in "Aggressive Behavior" found that women with low levels of androstenedione and testosterone may be less likely to express their competitive feelings with aggression. Competitive feelings may result because of competition for school success, athletic skill, success at another activity, looking attractive, male or female attention, popularity, prestige, a physical object or getting one's way.

Increased activity of serotonin, a brain chemical, is associated with a decrease in angry and aggressive behaviors. Researchers have found that women with one or both of two alterations in the promoter region of the serotonin receptor 2C gene display more anger, hostility and aggression, according to a University of Pittsburgh study reported by Science Daily.


Women are more likely to report that they would verbally or physically abuse their partner because of infidelity, according to a 1993 study in "Aggressive Behavior." However, the study did not test if the woman would follow through on those intentions if infidelity actually occurred. From a cross-cultural perspective, female aggression may also occur because of competition for men or subsistence products, or as a means of defense, according to a 1987 study published by Victoria K. Burbank in "Cross-Cultural Research."


Aggression is treated if it is a symptom of a particular mental syndrome, such as borderline personality disorder or autism. Aggression is often a feature of impulsivity. Impulsivity can be treated by many classes of medicines, including dopamine agonists such as buproprion and amphetamines, 5-HT receptor agonists and antagonists, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs, anticonvulsants, lithium, beta blockers, typical as well as atypical neuroleptics, opiate antagonists such as naltrexone and alpha antagonists such as clonidine, according to Martin L Korn, M.D. of MedscapeCME. Tricyclic and monoamine oxidase, or MAO, inhibitors, divalproex and SSRIs may be helpful in treating borderline personality disorder. Fluoxetine may help symptoms of autism. Behavioral therapy may also be helpful. In therapy, people learn to examine behavioral alternatives before acting.

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