Anti-bullying efforts should be tailored to victims' needs, study shows

July 3, 2012
A child’s temperament, sex and the type of bullying they experience all influence whether the child subsequently becomes depressed or more aggressive after being victimized, indicates a study by graduate student Niwako Sugimura, left, and psychology professor Karen D. Rudolph. Photo by L. Brian Stauffer

(Medical Xpress) -- Girls with poor self-control become as physically aggressive as the average boy when they’re bullied, suggests a new study by psychologists at the University of Illinois.

Whether victims become more aggressive or mired in self-blame and despair after being victimized is influenced by their temperament, gender and the type of bullying they experience. Intervention programs need to be sensitive to these differences and provide resources and strategies tailored to victims’ individual needs, said the study’s co-authors, graduate student Niwako Sugimura and Karen D. Rudolph, a professor in the department of psychology.

The researchers tracked 283 second-graders’ psychological adjustment for a year, examining how temperament and sex influenced bullying victims’ subsequent development of aggression or depression. The children and their teachers were surveyed about the children’s victimization by peers, and their overt and relationally aggressive behaviors toward others. Overt bullying includes physical assaults and verbal taunts or threats; relational bullying is intentionally excluding a child from a group or spreading rumors about them.

Parents also completed questionnaires about their children’s moods and feelings that corresponded with and reported on two traits pertaining to their children’s temperaments – and negative emotionality.

“Inhibitory control is like self-control,” Sugimura said. “Kids with poor inhibitory control have trouble stopping themselves from doing something too quickly or they don’t think before they act. Negative emotionality refers to how easily kids become angry, frustrated or sad. Children with high negative emotionality not only become angry or sad easily, they also stay upset longer.”

Not all children with high negative emotionality are depressed, although they may be more likely to become depressed than other children when they face a severe problem such as bullying, Rudolph said.

In the study, with high negative emotionality who had been bullied overtly or relationally were more likely to show depressive symptoms a year later. However, boys with high negative emotionality showed more depressive symptoms regardless of the amount of bullying they experienced, while boys with low negative emotionality showed depressive symptoms only in response to relational bullying.

“We know that there is a genetic component to some of these traits, so it might be that boys with high negative emotionality are predisposed to depression,” Rudolph said. “And it doesn’t matter what their experiences are; they’re just more likely to be depressed. However, boys with low negative emotionality were not predisposed to depression, so they were more reactive when they were bullied and became depressed.”

Contrary to the researchers’ expectations, girls – not boys – with poor inhibitory control were more reactive to overt and relational victimization and were more likely to display heightened aggression later on, becoming as physically aggressive as the average boy.

Sugimura and Rudolph weren’t certain why, but theorized that girls with low inhibitory control may be particularly impaired in their abilities to regulate their behavior. Or because overt aggression is less common among females, girls may view it as a greater threat and affront, prompting them to react violently.

“What they might be doing is trying to defend themselves when they’re bullied and trying to regain status within their group,” Sugimura said. “And because they have poor self-control, they might rely on kicking and hitting instead of trying to solve the problem.”

Responding aggressively to bullies tends to incite – not prevent – further victimization, triggering a cycle of violence, studies have shown. The researchers want to figure out ways to interrupt that cycle, developing interventions that protect victims against some of the emotional outcomes and to keep them from becoming more aggressive.

Although recent media attention on bullycides – youth suicides believed to have been caused by bullying – and school shootings by bullying victims have prompted mandates for anti-bullying curricula in schools, few of the programs have shown much efficacy with children in the U.S.

“Most of the programs focus on intervening at the level of preventing something bad from happening, but we also need to work on skill-building and teaching kids emotional competence skills,” Rudoph said. “Of course, it’s important for schools to prevent bullying from happening in the first place, but if kids respond to bullying more effectively, this also might reduce eventually. If you teach kids with poor or high negative emotionality how to think before they act and to deal with emotions effectively, you’re increasing the positive skills that they can rely on; this may help prevent some of the negative cycles that evolve.”

The study, available online, has been accepted for publication in the Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology.

Explore further: Bulling: Living under the shadow of constant threats, abuse can inflict damage that lasts a lifetime

Related Stories

Bulling: Living under the shadow of constant threats, abuse can inflict damage that lasts a lifetime

June 20, 2011
Though it’s often mistakenly considered a normal part of growing up, bullying is a serious problem that affects millions of children and adolescents.

Study of childhood bullying shifts focus to victims

August 30, 2011
Many wonder why bullies bully, but a new study looks at the other side of the equation: How do children respond to bullying and why? The answer, researchers say, may lead to more effective interventions to reduce the negative ...

Recommended for you

Talking to yourself can help you control stressful emotions

July 26, 2017
The simple act of silently talking to yourself in the third person during stressful times may help you control emotions without any additional mental effort than what you would use for first-person self-talk – the way people ...

Heart rate study tests emotional impact of Shakespeare

July 26, 2017
In a world where on-screen violence has become commonplace, Britain's Royal Shakespeare Company is turning to science to discover whether the playwright can still make our hearts race more than 400 years on.

Do all people experience similar near-death-experiences?

July 26, 2017
No one really knows what happens when we die, but many people have stories to tell about what they experienced while being close to death. People who have had a near-death-experience usually report very rich and detailed ...

Risk for bipolar disorder associated with faster aging

July 26, 2017
New King's College London research suggests that people with a family history of bipolar disorder may 'age' more rapidly than those without a history of the disease.

Visual clues we use during walking and when we use them

July 25, 2017
(Medical Xpress)—A trio of researchers with the University of Texas and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute has discovered which phase of visual information processing during human walking is used most to guide the feet accurately. ...

Toddlers begin learning rules of reading, writing at very early age, study finds

July 25, 2017
Even the proudest of parents may struggle to find some semblance of meaning behind the seemingly random mish-mash of letters that often emerge from a toddler's first scribbled and scrawled attempts at putting words on paper.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.