Catty behavior, which is a type of relational or social aggression, comes in many forms and peaks during the tween years. Catty behavior inflicts a number of wounds on victims, especially if the victims are socially excluded. Catty girls and guys also face consequences of their own, both positive and negative.
Catty Tweens May Experience Peer Rejection
Tweens who act catty want to gain or maintain a high social status through their actions. Interestingly, these behaviors can backfire, resulting in lower peer acceptance. This seems to occur most often when tweens make their catty actions obvious. When a tween instead harms others while remaining anonymous-such as by spreading rumors or cyberbullying-their peer acceptance is less likely to be negatively affected.
Catty Behaviors May Increase Popularity
On the other hand, many studies have found that catty individuals are ranked as more popular than their non-aggressive peers. Longitudinal studies (studies that examine the same group of people over time) find that the more socially aggressive a person acts, the more popular they become. It follows that catty tweens also report feeling less lonely than their peers.
People Who Are Catty Are Less Likeable
Even though catty people are ranked as more popular than their peers, they are often not actually liked. In other words, tweens may fear retribution if they do not get along with a catty person; as a result, the mean girl or guy seems to be popular. In fact, though, no one actually "likes" the relationally aggressive person.
Catty Tweens May Be Perceived Positively
That said, catty tweens do seem to be perceived well by peers and teachers. In particular, socially aggressive people are rated as more physically attractive, better at sports, and more able to get their own way than their non-aggressive peers. Whether these attributes make a person more likely to act catty or whether catty actions increase positive perception remains a matter of debate. What is notable, though, is that the negative consequences faced by physical bullies do not seem to plague perpetrators of relational aggression. Unfortunately, this lack of negative consequences can make catty, harmful behavior difficult to curb.
Archer, John, and Coyne, Sarah. An integrative review of indirect, social, and relational aggression. 2005. Personality and Social Psychology Review. 9, 3: 212-230.