Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Psychology (PsyD)



First Advisor

Maureen C. McHugh, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Kimberely J. Husenits, Psy.D.

Third Advisor

Catherine Raeff, Ph.D.


Research on playful aggression throughout the lifespan suggests the phenomenon fulfills specific unique functions and elicits particular consequences dependent on the exact facets of the situation in which it occurs. Additionally, decades of research on playful aggression in a multitude of populations and under a wide variety of conditions suggest the phenomenon is not uncommon, is regularly enjoyed by those who engage in it, and serves a variety of adaptive functions. However, some researchers have also demonstrated the dark side of playful aggression, illustrating its relationship to serious physical and sexual aggression. This study sought to further elucidate the phenomenon of playful aggression by assessing the behavior in its relational context. Participants recruited from the subject pool at Indiana University of Pennsylvania were presented with vignettes depicting an episode of playful aggression occurring between a college-aged couple. The vignettes differed according to the variables of gender of initiator (male or female initiator), size differential between male and female partner (male taller or female taller), and response of the target (positive or negative). The perceptions and feelings regarding the couple depicted in the vignette were assessed via a multipart survey. Results of the present study indicated that all three independent variables investigated significantly affected the participants’ perceptions of the couple and the interaction depicted in the vignette. Size differential affected how participants rated the aggressiveness of the interaction, whereas gender of the initiator and response of the target affected how participants perceived the couple’s relationship. Participants’ personal experience with playful aggression also significantly impacted their perceptions of the couple and of playful aggression. Content analysis of the qualitative data provided detailed information about how the participants viewed playful aggression.