Publication Date




Embargo Period


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Psychology (Arts and Sciences)

Date of Defense


First Committee Member

Annette M. La Greca

Second Committee Member

Jill Ehrenreich-May

Third Committee Member

Susan K. Dandes


Indirect peer aggression is prevalent during adolescence, and is associated with internalizing symptoms such as anxiety, depression, and withdrawn behaviors. However, the mechanisms underlying this mode of aggression are not well understood. Deficits in cognitive and affective empathy have been linked with indirect peer aggression, although findings regarding the precise nature of this relationship have been inconsistent. In particular, gender may play a role in this relationship. Therefore, the current study examined differential relationships between cognitive and affective empathy, and indirect peer aggression by gender during the transition to high school. Furthermore, the study extended findings to cyber peer aggression, which has indirect components. Last, it assessed social anxiety as a potential moderator of the relationship between cognitive and affective empathy and these types of peer aggression in girls. Participants were 523 ninth grade adolescents, ages 13 to 17 years (M = 14.53, SD = .58). Adolescents completed the Revised Peer Experiences Questionnaire, the Cyber Peer Experiences Questionnaire, the Basic Empathy Scale, and the Social Anxiety Scale for Adolescents at two different time points, three months apart. Results of hierarchical linear regression analyses revealed a concurrent and prospective relationship between cognitive empathy and indirect peer aggression in boys, and this relationship was found for concurrent indirect aggression in girls. For cyber peer aggression, associations with cognitive empathy were weaker, especially in girls. Affective empathy did not predict either type of aggression in boys or girls. In addition, social anxiety moderated the association between both types of empathy and both types of aggression in girls. Exploratory analyses found that social anxiety only served as a moderator in girls, and that a component of social anxiety, fear of negative evaluation, also moderated the association between cognitive/affective empathy and indirect/cyber peer aggression. Results of this study indicate specific empathic processes that may play a role in indirectly aggressive behaviors in boys and girls. Study limitations included self-report and limited generalizability. Future research might use a more longitudinal design to capture the developmental trajectory of these associations and incorporate more ecologically valid measures to better understand the mechanisms underlying the relationship between empathy and indirect peer aggression.


adolescence; indirect aggression; cyber aggression; affective empathy; cognitive empathy; social anxiety

Available for download on Thursday, August 05, 2021