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The purpose of this study was to investigate the relationship between theory of mind, gender, physical aggression, relational aggression, and bullying. Specifically, this research study was guided by the question: Does theory of mind mediate the relations between gender and physical aggression, gender and relational aggression, and gender and bullying? Three main hypotheses were made following Baron and Kenny’s (1986) mediation model steps. The first hypothesis sought to identify whether gender differences existed in aggressive and bullying behaviors. Specifically, it was hypothesized that (a) adolescent females will endorse higher levels of relational aggression compared to adolescent males, (b) adolescent males will endorse higher levels of physical aggression compared to adolescent females, and (c) adolescent males and adolescent females will report similar engagement in bullying behaviors. The second hypothesis was that adolescent females will have higher theory of mind scores than adolescent males. Finally, it was hypothesized that theory of mind will mediate the relationship between gender and relational aggression, gender and physical aggression, and gender and bullying.
Participants for the study included 810 sixth, seventh, and eighth grade students from three Midwestern middle schools who participated in a larger longitudinal investigation examining school experiences in the United States, Japan, Korea, Australia, and Canada. Analyses were conducted using structural equation modeling (SEM) with latent variables. Results revealed a significant direct effect between gender and physical aggression. As hypothesized, males were more physically aggressive than females. There was also a significant direct effect between gender and theory of mind. Also as hypothesized, females had higher theory of mind scores than males. No indirect effects were identified. Additionally, theory of mind did not emerge as a mediator in the model.
Implications of the results are discussed as well as the applicability of the study findings to aggression and bullying prevention and intervention efforts. Study limitations and future research are identified.