The attention relational aggression has received, has been augmented by the help of popular media, including movies like Mean Girls and books like Odd Girl Out by R. Simmons (2003), Nesthäkchen and the World War by Else Ury (1916), and Queen Bees and Wannabes by R. Wiseman (2003). Relational aggression can have various lifelong consequences. Relational aggression has been primarily observed and studied among girls, following pioneering research by psychologist Nicki R. Crick.
A person's peers become increasingly significant in adolescence and are especially important for adolescents' healthy psychological development. Peers provide many new behavioral models and feedback that are essential for successful identity formation and for the development of one's sense of self. Interactions with peers encourage positive practice of autonomy and independent decision-making skills. They are also essential for healthy sexual development including the development of the capacity for intimate friendships and learning appropriate sexual behavior. Peer relationships are also very important for determining how much adolescents value school, how much effort they put into it, and how well they perform in class. However, quite frequently adolescents take part in peer relationships that are harmful for their psychological development. Adolescents tend to form various cliques and belong to different crowds based on their activity interests, music and clothing preferences, as well as their cultural or ethnic background. Such groups differ in their sociometric or popularity status, which often create unhealthy, aggression-victimization based dynamics between groups. Different forms of aggression can also be used to control dynamics and sociometric status within a group. Sometimes aggression is directed to an individual rather than to any apparent social group. Primary reasons for victimization include looks and speech; adolescents are also frequently bullied because of a disability, particular ethnicity, or religion.
Relational aggression is defined as a type of aggression that is "intended to harm others through deliberate manipulation of their social standing and relationships". Relational aggression, according to Daniel Olweus is a type of bullying. Bullying in general, is defined as physically or psychologically violent re-occurring and not provoked acts, where the bully and victim have unequal physical strength or/and psychological power. These key conditions apply to all types of bullying: verbal, physical, relational.
Relational aggression may be either covert or direct, and is distinct from other forms of indirect aggression. It can be proactive (planned and goal-oriented) or reactive (in response to perceived threats, hostility, or anger), and it can be, for instance, peer-directed or romantic. Several studies have indicated substantive differences between proactive and reactive relational aggression. Reactive aggression is associated with a tendency to assume that others' intentions are hostile (hostile attribution bias).
Most studies of relational aggression have involved children or adolescents; the study of relational aggression in adults presents problems. Relational aggression is a common aspect of workplace bullying, and is a characteristic behaviour of psychopaths in the workplace, so it is commonplace amongst adults as well as children.