Introducing Savannah Merold

Savannah Merold
Savannah Merold is a first year doctoral student in the Counseling Psychology program at the University of Southern Mississippi. She is originally from Alabama and received her Bachelor of Science in Psychology from Southern Miss in 2016.

As an undergraduate, Savannah was involved in social and evolutionary psychology research. This resulted in her role as the second author of a 2016 paper published in Personality and Individual Differences. The paper, "Social and emotional intelligence moderate the relationship between psychopathy traits and social perception," reflects Savannah's interests in dark personality traits and social/emotional intelligence. These interests led her to apply to the doctoral program in Counseling Psychology at Southern Miss to work in the Anger and Traffic Psychology Lab.

Savannah plans to continue studying psychopathic personality traits and social/emotional intelligence for her master's thesis, exploring their role in relational aggression. One advantage of her previous work in this area is that she already has a solid understanding of the variables and some great ideas about how best to assess them. This has allowed her to get a quick start on her thesis project. Savannah's plans for the future involve a career in academia where she can continue to conduct research.

When asked about any advice she might have for future applicants to our program, Savannah stressed the importance of knowing the research interests of potential faculty advisors, noting that this can help give one a better picture about where one would “fit” as a graduate student in the program. Very good advice!

Relational Aggression in College Students

Relational aggression is a form of aggressive behavior in which the aggressor harms others by deliberately manipulating, damaging, or threatening to damage their relationships, feelings of acceptance or inclusion, and/or social status (Crick & Grotpeter, 1995; Werner & Crick, 1999). The destructive nature of relational aggression among children and early adolescents has been established for some time, but relatively little was known about relational aggression in older adolescents and emerging adults until recently.

Research conducted at the
Anger and Traffic Psychology Lab has focused on contributing to the growing literature on relational aggression in college students. Below is a summary of three recent studies conducted at the lab.

Czar, Dahlen, Bullock, and Nicholson (2011) explored the potential role of psychopathic personality traits in relational aggression among college students. Both primary and secondary psychopathic traits predicted relational aggression, and these relationships did not vary by gender. This suggests that psychopathic traits (e.g., a lack of empathy or remorse, dishonesty, impulsivity, antisocial behavior), known to predict overt aggression, may also be relevant to understanding relational aggression.

Prather, Dahlen, Nicholson, and Bullock-Yowell (2012) found that male and female college students reported engaging in similar levels of relational aggression in their dating relationships. Students with traditional (as opposed to egalitarian) sex role attitudes were more likely to engage in dating relational aggression, regardless of gender. In addition, the acceptance of couple violence predicted dating relational aggression over and above trait anger and sex role attitudes. Taken together, the results suggest that college students who experience more frequent and intense anger than their peers, hold traditional sex role attitudes, and are more accepting of intimate partner violence are more likely to commit acts of relational aggression in their dating relationships.

Dahlen, Czar, Prather, and Dyess (2013) found that college students who described themselves as more relationally aggression reported higher levels of anxiety, depression, anger, loneliness, academic burnout, and the misuse of alcohol. The correlates of relational victimization were similar, suggesting that both relational aggression and victimization can be disruptive to college students' social and emotional functioning. Dahlen and colleagues (2013) also found that anxiety, trait anger, and personal problems related to alcohol use predicted relational aggression in peer relationships while taking students' gender, race, and experiences with relational victimization into account.

Psychopathic Traits in Relational Aggression Among College Students

We recently had a manuscript accepted for publication in Aggressive Behavior based on Kate Czar's master's thesis:

Czar, K. A., Dahlen, E. R., Bullock-Yowell, E., & Nicholson, B. C. (in press). Psychopathic personality traits in relational aggression among young adults. Aggressive Behavior.

The paper addresses the potential role of psychopathic personality traits in relational aggression among college students. Findings showed that psychopathic personality traits predicted peer and romantic relational aggression, even when controlling for physical aggressiveness. Neither the frequency with which relationally aggressive behaviors were reported nor the link between psychopathic traits and relational aggression differed by participant gender.

Kate is an advanced doctoral student working in the lab, and we are proud of her efforts. She proposed her dissertation recently and will begin collecting data soon.