January 30, 2014

Do peer- and self-reports of bullying predict the same forms of later adjustment?

Scholte, R. H. J., Burk, W. J., & Overbeek, G. (2013). Divergence in self- and peer-reported victimization and its association to concurrent and prospective adjustment. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 42, 1789-1800. 

Two methods commonly used by researchers for measuring bullying in schools are self-reports and peer-reports. Self-reports ask a child a series of questions about their bullying experiences. Peer-reports instead ask children nominate members of their peer group who they think are bullied. While both measure are often used in research they are not often used together. The information each measure generates can contradict the other, with each measure often pointing to separate individuals as victims of bullying. Both measures have benefits and drawbacks. Self-reports allow researchers a better insight into bullying activities that may occur outside of school, and therefore are not being measured by peer-reports, however they are also more sensitive to lying, bias and misinformation. Peer-reports may give a more realistic and objective account of bulling activities within school, however they are less sensitive and may miss information that could identify a child as bullied.

This study combined the strengths of peer- and self-reports to generate more information on bullying victims. Using these measures the authors wanted to see if they could find different kinds of bullying victims, and how well these different victim types adapted emotionally and socially during, and after, being bullied.

A total of 1,346 adolescents from 23 different schools took part in the experiment. Just over half were female and the majority were of Dutch ethnicity. The average age was 14.2 years at the beginning of the year-long study.

Students were given questionnaires to measure self- and peer-reports of victimization. A year later these measure were given to the same participants again, this allowed the experimenters to see how the participants were adapting to bullying after a period of time.

Identification of victim TypesFour different types of victims were found by using self- and peer-reports. Self-peer victims, identified by high scores on both self- and peer-measures of bullying; self-identified victims, identified by high self-report scores of victimization; peer-identified victims, characterized by high scores on peer-measures; and non-victims, individuals who had low peer- and self-report measures.

Differences between victim types on present future adjustmentSelf-peer victims were found to have the highest levels of peer rejection and the highest amounts of loneliness. Peer-identified victims had the highest levels of peer rejection, but also one of the highest levels of self-esteem along with non-victims.Both self-victims and non-victims had more reciprocal friendships compared with peer-victims and self-peer victims, and the quality of these friendships did not make a difference in distinguishing the different groups.

Looking at these results it can be seen that those who were identified by their peers as being bullied had more difficulty adapting socially, where as victims identified by only themselves struggled to adapt during, and after the bullying, emotionally. All four victim types were found to be stable over a year, meaning if a participant was classified as a self-peer identified victim they were likely to still be classified as a self-peer identified victim a year later.

Scholte and Burk’s research demonstrates how by combining old knowledge, and creating newer measures, we are better able to form a deeper and more detailed level of understanding what bullying is and how its use affects others.