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University of Iowa News Release

Aug. 21, 2006

UI Sociology Graduate Student Studies Mean Cycle In Girls' Friendships

The cycle of friendships, aggression and social power among pre-teen girls is the topic of a recent study by Ana Campos (left), a Department of Sociology graduate student in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Iowa.

Her personal interviews with 34 girls, aged 8- to 10-years-old, uncovered how the mean cycle in female friendship circles exists across socioeconomic backgrounds.

"I selected girls in this age group because they express themselves verbally, but aren't old enough to be reserved as pre-adolescents can be," said Campos. "Also, I wanted to add to previous research that has indicated that the mean girl cycle is a white, middle-class girls' phenomenon. I wanted to show that it's happening across all demographics."

The participants of the study were from low-income families and self-identified as African-American, Latina, white, or mixed, living in Sacramento, Calif.

Campos found that a girl's social status is determined by her ability to attract friends and have high-value social possessions such as cool clothing, a cute boyfriend, etc. She identified several ways that girls attempt to gain power through aggressive behavior.

Gossip, social expulsion, making fun, nonverbal tactics such as pointing at someone and eye rolling were ways girls try to gain control. Campos explained that it's so important to girls to have a feeling of acceptance and popularity that they will try to damage another girl's self-confidence in an attempt to gain friends. This can be a successful tactic because the other girls don't want to be associated with the girl who is being made fun of.

"When things get out of hand, some circles end up mediating their own conflicts through friendship meetings and adult interference. Individuals also try to resolve their conflicts through confrontation, taking time away from the group or exercise," said Campos. "But as a conflict is resolved another is forming through a girl's desire to have many friends and confidants. The cycle is continuous."

The girls justify their behavior mostly by blaming the victim by saying she deserved it or that their own behavior was just for fun. As for those on the receiving end, some described how they were treated as "mean" or "evil."

"Being mean to someone is part of kids' everyday life, but it has a sour taste to it," says Campos. "No one wants to be labeled a mean girl so justifying their actions was important when we discussed their behavior."

Campos will continue to work on this topic but use an adult female sample. She plans to interview college-aged women and post-college women about their experiences with social aggression and determine how the behavior differs from her current study.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500.

MEDIA CONTACTS: Lesly Huffman, 319-384-0077, lesly-huffman@uiowa.edu or Mary Geraghty Kenyon, 319-384-0011, mary-kenyon@uiowa.edu