Empathy : a proposed moderator to the relationship between Machiavellianism and social aggression in Hispanic and non-Hispanic children
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Social aggression is defined as a set of behaviors directed towards damaging another individual’s self-esteem or social status and may include direct forms such as verbal rejection, negative facial expressions or gestures, or more indirect means such as rumor spreading or social exclusion (Galen & Underwood, 1997). Previous research demonstrates that social aggression and self-reported empathy have a negative linear relationship, and that social aggression is positively correlated with the ability to effectively navigate varied social contexts (a subset of Machiavellianism, or a manipulative beliefs and strategies towards others; Wilson, Near, & Miller, 1996). Despite this evidence, few researchers have investigated the relationships among all three of these variables (empathy, social aggression, and social navigation) (Bjorkqvist, Osterman, & Kaukiainen, 2000; Kaukiainen et al., 1999). This study examines whether social aggression is correlated with Machiavellianism, or a manipulative orientation to others, and if this relationship is contingent upon the child’s self- reported level of empathy. It is hypothesized that children’s levels of Machiavellianism are related to the use of social aggression, but the strength of this relationship will vary according to level of empathy. Therefore, empathy is proposed to serve as a moderator of the relationship between Machiavellianism and social aggression. The investigator also conducted additional exploratory analyses using a portion of the sample identified by school records as Hispanic. The same relationships are explored with this portion of the sample to determine whether this population is unique with respect to these relationships. Using this portion of the sample, intercorrelations among the variables are reported as well. A sample of 280, nine- to 13-year-old students from a school district outside a metropolitan area participated. Each one completed instruments designed to measure social aggression, empathy, Machiavellianism, and acculturation. The results indicated that there was no linear relationship between Machiavellianism and social aggression, and further, there is no moderating effect of empathy. An exploratory analysis with Hispanic participants (n = 217) suggests the relationship between Machiavellianism and social aggression, and non-significant role of empathy as a moderator, do not differ for Hispanic and non-Hispanic participants. Interestingly, acculturation is positively correlated with social aggression and negatively correlated with empathy, suggesting that as children become more oriented to US culture, they are more likely to engage in social aggression and report lower overall levels of empathy. These findings contribute uniquely to the literature, and further, provide new information on these constructs using a Hispanic sample. Implications for intervention and future research are discussed.