Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Thesis Format



Master of Science




Dr. Lynne Zarbatany


This study assessed the roles of clique stratification (hierarchical organization) and within-clique centrality (status) in clique socialization of overt and relational aggression over six months. Stratification was expected to increase clique socialization of aggression due to clear expectations for behaviour. For overt aggression, high- and low-central individuals were expected to be especially sensitive to stratification effects. Data were collected from 1,033 students (Mage = 11.59, SD = 1.37, 444 boys, 580 girls) in the fall and spring of an academic year. Aggression was assessed via peer nominations. Cliques and individual centrality were identified using the Social Cognitive Map. Multilevel modeling indicated that clique stratification magnified clique socialization of relational aggression, regardless of individual status. However, only high-central members of stratified overtly aggressive cliques increased in overt aggression over time; aggression of low-central members decreased. These results suggest that although stratification may motivate adoption of clique-valued aggressive behaviour, actual behavioural adoption may depend on children’s aggressive competencies.

Summary for Lay Audience

In late childhood and early adolescence, youth spend the majority of their free time “hanging out” in cliques, groups of between 3 and 10 peers. Each clique expects specific types of behavior from its members, so that members become more alike in thoughts, values, and actions, a process referred to as clique socialization. For example, members of aggressive cliques become increasingly aggressive over time. The purpose of this longitudinal study was to determine whether the strength of clique socialization of overt (e.g., hitting; threatening) and relational aggression (gossip; rumours; ostracism) was affected by the clique’s hierarchical organization (status equality or inequality), and by children’s status within their cliques. Participants were 1,033 children (444 boys, 580 girls) in Grades 4 to 8 from eight public schools, forming 162 cliques. Children reported on their clique membership and their classmates’ overt and relational aggression in the fall and spring of an academic year. As expected, relationally aggressive cliques that were organized in a hierarchical status structure magnified clique socialization of members’ relational aggression, likely because the hierarchical organization clearly conveyed the behavior expected and likely to be rewarded. The covert nature of relational aggression made retaliation unlikely, so all members could participate, regardless of status. In contrast, only high status members of overtly aggressive stratified cliques increased in overt aggression over time. Although all members of overtly aggressive cliques may wish to meet clique expectations for overt aggression, only high-status members may have the skill to perpetrate overt aggression and defend themselves against retaliation, raising the aggression “bar” for their clique mates. These results demonstrate that clique socialization of aggressive behavior is nuanced, and depends on characteristics of the clique, the individual members, and type of behavior being socialized. More research is needed to determine whether the aggression in stratified cliques is primarily directed toward members of other cliques or to clique mates.