Methods: Secondary analyses were conducted on baseline data from 984 seventh grade students from three middle schools participating in a randomized controlled trial evaluating an expressive writing intervention. The overall sample had an approximately equal distribution by sex (54% female) and a mean age of 12.8 years (SD = 0.48). Nearly half (49.2%) of participants identified as White, followed by 18.6% Black/African American, and 7.8% bi- or multi-racial. Twenty-four percent self-identified as Latino/a. Latent class analysis was used to identify heterogeneity in patterns of aggression and victimization. The 3-step BCH method was used to examine demographic predictors of class membership, as well as to examine social and emotional adjustment across classes while controlling for any significant demographic predictors.
Results: Four classes of adolescents were identified, representing aggressive-victims (12%), predominant victims (17%), predominant aggressors (25%), and youth with limited involvement (47%). These four patterns were consistent across sex and across schools that differed in the demographics of the students. There was a significant main effect of aggression for all outcome variables, such that the mean social and emotional functioning among youth in the aggressive subgroups (i.e., predominant aggressors, aggressive-victims) was poorer than youth in the non-aggressive subgroups (i.e., predominant victims, limited involvement). There was also a significant main effect of victimization on self-reports of depression and dysregulated anger expression. Finally, among all outcomes, there was only one interaction effect; predominant aggressors reported stronger beliefs supporting fighting than all other groups.
Conclusions: Previous researchers have emphasized the importance of developing preventive interventions that target the specific needs of distinct subgroups. The findings of the present study suggest that aggressive-victims lack distinct characteristics that would warrant a targeted intervention, and rather would benefit from universal interventions aimed at improving social and emotional functioning.