The development of boys' preferential pleasure in physical aggression

Aggress Behav. Mar-Apr 2008;34(2):154-66. doi: 10.1002/ab.20223.


A large body of literature on physical aggression focuses on its maladaptive nature and causes. The current study of 335 children (209 boys, 126 girls), aged 4-, 5-, 6-, and 9-years, examined a different facet of harmful physical aggression-the development of the pleasure it provides to boys. Two samples of children were included, first 89 boys, then an additional 120 boys and 126 girls. For the first two free response measures, all 209 boys and 126 girls were asked to describe how they played with their three favorite toys and their three favorite playmates, and these descriptions were coded for the presence of physical aggression. Twelve additional structured measures were administered to the second sample of 120 boys and 126 girls. These children were asked to rate how much they enjoyed enacting and viewing on television physical aggression, non-physically aggressive male sex-typed roles, and ambiguously sex-typed roles. Results demonstrated that approximately 50% of boys at all four age levels (and less than 10% of girls) reported that at least one of their three favorite toys was used for inflicting harm through physical aggression on an animate being. Further, with increasing age, boys rated physical aggression in play activities and on television as more enjoyable than alternative male sex-typed play and television content. Results suggest that advancing understanding of the development of physical aggression requires acknowledging the pleasure it provides to males.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Aggression / psychology*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Choice Behavior
  • England
  • Female
  • Gender Identity*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Motivation*
  • Personality Assessment
  • Personality Development*
  • Play and Playthings*
  • Television*