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Mean girls? New study says boys may be worse

"Mean girls" may be getting a bad rap. While everyone knows the stereotype of teen girls who use vicious gossip and social rejection to put down their rivals, a new study finds the same behavior is even more common in boys.

Researchers from the University of Georgia call the behavior "relational aggression," and define it as the use of malicious rumors, social exclusion and rejection to harm or manipulate others. They surveyed 620 students from northeast Georgia school districts each year as the students progressed from sixth grade through the end of high school, and found almost all of them reported taking part in such behavior at one time or another.

"Overall, we found relational aggression to be a very common behavior," lead researcher Pamela Orpinas, a professor of health promotion and behavior at the University of Georgia's College of Public Health, said in a statement. "Almost all of the students surveyed, 96 percent, had passed a rumor or made a nasty comment about someone over the course of the seven-year study."

Nearly as many students -- over 90 percent -- reported that they had been victims of other kids' relational aggression at least once.

Unexpectedly, however, the study found that more boys than girls were carrying out such behavior, while girls were more likely to be victims of it.

"We have books, websites and conferences aimed at stopping girls from being aggressive, as well as a lot of qualitative research on why girls are relationally aggressive," Orpinas said. "But oddly enough, we don't have enough research on why boys would be relationally aggressive because people have assumed it's a girl behavior."

The researchers note previous studies have shown that being a victim can have "serious emotional consequences, including depression and anxiety," and can hurt a child's academic performance in school.

The study, published in the journal Aggressive Behavior, calls for more research on why "mean boys" behave this way, and says efforts should be made to develop programs to help both boys and girls reduce relational aggression.

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