Program Head, Psychological Sciences MS;
Ashbel Smith Professor
PhD, Duke University
Anger, Aggression, Gender and Children's Peer Relationships
Underwood Laboratory; Center for Children and Families
Dr. Underwood's scholarly interests lie within the broad domains of children's emotion regulation, peer relations, and developmental psychopathology. She earned her doctoral degree from Duke University in child clinical psychology in 1991, and then joined the faculty and was granted tenure at Reed College in Portland, Oregon. In September of 1998, Dr. Underwood began her appointment as Associate Professor of Developmental Psychology in the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences at the University of Texas at Dallas.
Children who have successful relationships with peers likely make skillful choices about how and when to express emotions. Because children in the age range of middle childhood strongly value feeling accepted and avoiding embarrassment, an emotion that is likely to be especially challenging for them is anger. Recent investigations have explored how boys and girls manage anger in a variety of social contexts, both in laboratory experiments and in naturalistic settings. Results show that although boys may be more overtly expressive of anger than girls, girls might express anger in more subtle ways.
When children and adolescents want to express anger and contempt toward peers, they sometimes aggress physically but also hurt others by friendship manipulation, social exclusion, and negative gossip or backstabbing. These behaviors are called social aggression, and their purpose is to harm others by damaging their self-esteem, social status, and close relationships. Recent investigations have examined gender and developmental differences in perpetrating and being the victim of social aggression. Results show that boys and girls report experiencing social aggression equally often, but that girls are more distressed by social aggression than are boys.
Because gender and emotion regulation and peer relations are intimately intertwined, other recent work has explored the extent to which empirical research supports the claims that boys' and girls' social groups are sufficiently different as to be separate cultures. Other studies have examined the long-term outcomes associated with childhood peer problems for girls, including delinquency but also adolescent motherhood.
Investigations currently underway are exploring how youth use electronic communication in their peer relationships. Given the increasing numbers of youth who spend massive amounts of time online and the importance of peer relations for children's future adjustment, it is critical that we understand how children use this medium with peers for good or for ill. If we wish to prevent social aggression and to create a climate of belonging and acceptance among youth, we have no choice but to study online communication, to examine how children use the potentially powerful electronic grapevine.
A large longitudinal study in progress is investigating the developmental origins of individual differences socially aggressive behavior: biological, family, personality, peer group, and school factors. This research also examines developmental outcomes associated with engaging in and being the victim of social and physical aggression: qualities of peer and romantic relationships, self-concept, academic progress, identity formation, externalizing problems, internalizing disorders, personality disorders, and eating disorders. The overall aim of this research program is clarify to developmental precursors of adolescent psychopathology for both girls and boys, with the long-term goal of developing prevention efforts not only for social and physical aggression, but also for internalizing problems, personality disorders, and eating disorders. Dr. Underwood's approach to understanding gender and aggression is described in her recent book, Social Aggression among Girls.
My research focuses on how children express anger in their peer relationships. We are particularly interested in the more subtle forms of anger expression common among girls, behaviors we call social aggression. We are observing how children use social aggression across contexts (face-to-face, behind-the-back, and online), and beginning to investigate the developmental precursors and outcomes associated with social aggression.
Underwood, M.K., Rosen, L.H., More, D., Ehrenreich, S., & Gentsch, J.K. (2012). The BlackBerry Project: Capturing the content of adolescents' electronic communication. Developmental Psychology, 48, 295-302.
Underwood, M.K., Beron, K.J., & Rosen, L.H. (2011). Joint trajectories for social and physical aggression as predictors of adolescent maladjustment: Internalizing symptoms, rule-breaking behaviors, and borderline and narcissistic personality features. Development and Psychopathology, 23, 659-678.
Underwood, M.K. & Rosen, L.H. (2011). Social Development. NY: Guilford Press.