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Try out PMC Labs and tell us what you think. Learn More. Indirect aggression includes behaviours such as criticizing a competitor's appearance, spreading rumours about a person's sexual behaviour and social exclusion. Human females have a particular proclivity for using indirect aggression, which is typically directed at other females, especially attractive and sexually available females, in the context of intrasexual competition for mates.

Indirect aggression is an effective intrasexual competition strategy. It is associated with a diminished willingness to compete on the part of victims and with greater dating and sexual behaviour among those who perpetrate the aggression. The study of sexual selection among human females has primarily focused on two competition strategies used to attract mates: i self-promotion and ii the derogation of rivals.

Self-promotion involves epigamic displays of physical attractiveness such as wearing make-up or sexy clothing to attract the attention of a potential partner [ 1 — 7 ].

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The derogation of competitors involves making a rival seem less attractive or less appealing to members of the opposite sex [ 78 ], which is typically achieved by disparaging the competitor's appearance or by spreading rumours that question the fidelity or level of promiscuity of a rival [ 2 ]. Females attack other females principally on appearance and sexual fidelity because males value these qualities in their partners. Indeed, research on human mate preferences has clearly shown that males have a strong preference for young, attractive females [ 369 — 13 ] who are not licentious [ 914 ].

Interestingly, indirect aggression also includes behaviours that have been shown to be used by women around the world when attempting to reduce the mate value of a competitor—criticizing a competitor's appearance and spreading rumours about her sexual behaviour [ 9 ].

Although developmental psychologists have tended to not conceptualize females' use of indirect aggression as an intrasexual competition strategy, the central thesis of this paper is that it is an effective approach that is used primarily and ubiquitously by girls and women when they are at the peak of their reproductive value.

When comparing mean levels of direct forms of aggression, which includes physical aggression, there is a clear and pronounced sex difference favouring males across the lifespan [ 2223 ]. When comparing sex differences in mean levels of indirect aggression, there is a slightly higher rate found among females during childhood, adolescence and adulthood [ 2223 ].

Importantly however, when examining the proportion of engagement in this type of aggression, research demonstrates that females preferentially use indirect aggression e. When girls and women aggress against others, they almost invariably use indirect aggression. Campbell [ 2627 ] has suggested that because females have a greater parental investment than males [ 28 ], the costs associated with direct aggression i. In addition to being the preferred way of aggressing against others [ 33 ], research has also shown that females typically direct their indirect aggression at other females [ 34 — 36 ], and that the victimization of other Women want sex Cason increases in relation to experimentally primed mating motives [ 37 ].

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The use of indirect aggression also increases with age [ 2238 — 40 ] and is used at a similar rate [ 41 ] by females during adolescence [ 22 ] and young adulthood [ 33 ]. The fact that indirect aggression is primarily used by teenage girls and young women, who direct their aggression at same-sex peers, is in keeping with the hypothesis that indirect aggression is used in the context of competing for mates. Adolescence and early adulthood correspond to a time when fertility is at its highest [ 42 ] and when competition for mates is especially salient [ 2627 ].

The association between indirect aggression and age is similar to the positive link found between age and intrasexual competition. As an example, Massar et al. Given males' distinct preference for physically attractive females [ 369 — 13 ], it is not surprising that attractive adolescent girls [ 44 ] and women [ 34 ] fall victim to other females' indirect aggression at a higher rate than their less attractive peers.

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The poor treatment of attractive females by other females has been documented beyond the use of indirect aggression. For example, in the work place, women routinely discriminate against same-sex candidates, particularly attractive same-sex candidates, whereas men actively welcome such women [ 4546 ]. When offering a request for forgiveness, women are less accepting of the apology and judge the quality of the apology as poorer when it is offered by an attractive woman than when it is offered by an unattractive woman.

For men, the opposite is true—an apology offered by an attractive woman is not only well received, but it is also judged as being of higher quality [ 47 ]. Most studies examining links between attractiveness and derogation, discrimination and aggression have focused on facial beauty. Thinness is also a marker of attractiveness in females, in large part because a thin figure is associated with youthfulness [ 113548 ], and hence greater reproductive value. Cross-cultural evidence supports the notion that a thin body shape is perceived as attractive, especially by women who reside in high-socioeconomic regions around the world [ 49 ].

The fact that girls and women value thinness more than boys and men [ 49 ] suggests that the drive to be thin is likely motivated by intrasexual competition [ 4850 — 55 ]. Most girls and women express disappointment about their current body shape [ 56 — 58 ]. In addition to being discontent about their current body shape, many girls and women also express a strong fear of being too fat [ 61 ].

Eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa are characterized by body image distortions, intense fear of being fat and the use of compensatory behaviours e. It has been suggested that not only are eating disorders a direct consequence of intrasexual competition, but also females, not males, promote the culture of thinness [ 53 ]. Consistent with the hypothesis that body dissatisfaction and eating pathology arise from intrasexual competition, Faer et al. In another study, Li et al.

It has been suggested that bulimia and other eating pathologies including the pursuit of thinness are an index of competitive behaviour [ 59 ]. In a recent experimental study, Ferguson et al. In this study, women were randomly exposed to two young attractive research assistants who were either i dressed in a manner that accentuated their thin figures attire similar to that would be worn at a job interview and wore make-up or ii dressed in non-form-fitting track pants frumpy attire with no make-up.

In these two conditions, an attractive male was either present or not. were consistent with the concept that body dissatisfaction is born from intrasexual competition. Women who were exposed to the attractive research assistants reported greater body dissatisfaction than those exposed to the frumpy research assistants. Thin women would presumably be most threatened by the slim attractive research assistants because these women would be their most direct rivals.

Comparing rates of body dissatisfaction across the experimental groups, Ferguson and co-workers also found that women in the attractive research assistant condition with an attractive man were the least satisfied with their bodies. Researchers have repeatedly demonstrated that same-sex peers influence the body image of girls and women more than the exposure to media depicting thin as beautiful [ 6065 — 70 ]. If thinness is a marker for youth and attractiveness, which als higher mate value, and indirect aggression is an intrasexual competition strategy, then thin girls and women should be indirectly aggressed against more than their heavier peers.

In a recent nationally representative study of American adolescents in which different types of peer victimization were examined in relation to weight status, Wang et al. Unfortunately, in this study, the sex of the perpetrator was not assessed. The studies reviewed thus far suggest that being physically attractive places females at risk of being indirectly victimized by other females.

Attractive rivals are threatening owing to their high mate value [ 3472 ], and consequently, females attack other attractive females indirectly as a way of either intimidating their rivals [ 30 ], diminishing their rivals' mate value [ 34 ] or improving their self-image, which is challenged by the presence of attractive competitors [ 43 ]. In addition to being intolerant of attractive females, there is evidence that females are intolerant of same-sex peers who are perceived as being too sexually available and aggress against such females using indirect aggression.

On balance, should females not be pleased that their competitors are engaging in behaviour that debases their mate value?

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In other words, females punish other females who seem to make sex too readily available using indirect aggression [ 74 — 77 ]. There are some studies supporting this line of reasoning. For example, in a study of adolescents, Leenaars et al. In their experiment, young women were randomly ased in dy to one of two conditions. In the first condition, the dyad's conversation was interrupted by an attractive female confederate who was dressed in sexy clothing; whereas in the second condition, participants were interrupted by the same confederate who was dressed in a conservative manner figure 1.

Participants were secretly video-recorded with audio and their reactions to the presence of the confederate were coded by independent female raters blind to condition. of this experiment were striking—with the exception of two women, all of the participants who were coded as engaging in indirect aggression were ased to the sexy condition. Confederate dressed in a a sexually provocative manner versus b a conservative manner. Indeed, the women in this experiment demonstrated a clear preference to not wanting to introduce the sexy confederate to a boyfriend or to allow him to spend time alone with her.

They also did not want to be Women want sex Cason with the sexy confederate. Given this established mating preference for males [ 3 ], it seems reasonable that it would be in a female's best interest to avoid girls and women who appear to be sexually available. Associating with such females may i lower a person's own mate value guilty by associationii result in the poaching of one's romantic partner [ 347380 ] or iii induce a feeling of jealousy because they are perceived to be obtaining something that is valued i.

However, attractive females should be of concern insofar as they have been shown to be more successful at mate poaching than their less attractive peers [ 80 ], which in turn, has been linked to greater mating success [ 81 — 83 ]. Attractive females should also be of concern because they are able to directly reduce the mate value of competitors.

These suggest that despite being more frequent victims of indirect aggression [ 3444 ], attractive women may nevertheless have a tactical advantage over their less attractive peers. The studies reviewed above suggest that indirect aggression is used by adolescent girls and women in the context of intrasexual competition. Concerning the first area of support, several studies have reported links between the use of indirect aggression and increased dating behaviour and sexual activity.

For example, White et al. Earlier onset of mating behaviour has been shown to confer females with a fitness advantage [ 85 ]. Gallup et al. As was the case with the adolescent girls in White et al. Again, consistent with findings from Gallup et al. Concurrent and longitudinal associations include markers of low fitness such as depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, somatic complaints, loneliness, peer rejection, school dropout and suicide, to name a few see [ 90 ] for review.

What is more, longitudinal research provides strong support for peer victimization as a cause of poor health and self-image problems [ 90 ], and that the link is qualified by the sex of the victim. For instance, Kim et al. Rueger et al. Regarding indirect peer victimization, Klomek et al. In a study by Carbone-Lopez et al. Moreover, Taylor et al. That is, females' stress responses have selectively developed to capitalize on the survival of the mother and her offspring [ 2627 ].

It may also explain why females, more so than males, are so good at detecting the cues associated with indirect aggression. For example, Benenson et al. Being sensitive to cues of indirect aggression has likely been associated with increased survival. Throughout history, females have been mostly responsible for the care and survival of their offspring [ 31 ]; a charge which presumably would be made easier if the female was supported by other females [ 31 ].

A clear way that indirect aggression serves an individual's goal is by reducing her same-sex rivals' ability, or desire, to compete for mates. This is typically accomplished in a concealed way which diminishes the risk of a counterattack.

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