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Two theories offer competing explanations of sex differences in aggressive behavior: sexual-selection theory and social-role theory. While each theory has specific strengths and limitations depending on the victim's sex, research hardly differentiates between intrasex and intersex aggression. In the present study, 11,307 students (mean age = 14.96 years; 50% girls, 50% boys) from 597 school classes provided social-network data (aggression and friendship networks) as well as physical (body mass index) and psychosocial (gender and masculinity norms) information. Aggression networks were used to disentangle intra- and intersex aggression, whereas their class-aggregated sex differences were analyzed using contextual predictors derived from sexual-selection and social-role theories. As expected, results revealed that sexual-selection theory predicted male-biased sex differences in intrasex aggression, whereas social-role theory predicted male-biased sex differences in intersex aggression. Findings suggest the value of explaining sex differences separately for intra- and intersex aggression with a dual-theory framework covering both evolutionary and normative components.

Original publication




Journal article


Psychol Sci

Publication Date





1285 - 1294


aggression, sex differences, social-network analysis, Adolescent, Aggression, Cross-Cultural Comparison, England, Female, Germany, Humans, Male, Netherlands, Regression Analysis, Schools, Sex Characteristics, Sexual Behavior, Social Support, Students, Surveys and Questionnaires, Sweden