Peer groups influence early adolescent bullying behavior

January 21, 2003

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Peer-group influence on adolescents is well established, especially regarding drugs and alcohol. New research indicates it also extends to bullying behavior.

Through surveys at a Midwestern middle school, conducted early and late in the academic year, lead investigator Dorothy Espelage found that kids who hang out with peers who bully, both boys and girls, tend to do more bullying themselves. Bullying behavior was defined as teasing, harassment, rumor spreading and social exclusion.

The study of middle-school aggression appears in the January/February issue of the journal Child Development.

The same peer effect held true for physical fighting, but was not nearly as strong, said Espelage, a professor of educational psychology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

The findings fit with what researchers call the "homophily hypothesis," which holds that individual behavior is influenced by the groups they're part of.

"This is the first time that we can actually show that the homophily hypothesis holds for both bullying and fighting (among early adolescents), but it is much stronger and explains much more about bullying," Espelage said. "The study shows that for bullying there was a significant peer group process."

As in other studies, by Espelage and others, she found that even when individual students engaged in little or no bullying, they often stood on the sidelines and rarely intervened. They appeared to largely accept it as part of the culture or climate, as "just how things are," she said.

The study was conducted during the 1999-2000 school year at a rural and largely white middle school (grades 6-8) with about 475 students. The first survey, early in the school year, included 422 participants, and 384 of those participated again in the spring. In both surveys, the participants were about 51 percent girls and 49 percent boys.

Students were asked about their own behavior, as well as that of their peers. They also were asked to name the kids they hung out with the most, as well as those they thought often teased and picked on others, and those who were the victims of that teasing and harassment.

The researchers then did extensive analysis to determine the students' social networks, and matched that with the behavior of individual students, as reported by themselves and their peers.

"What the study says is that for bullying-prevention programs we really need to consider this tendency of kids to go along with the group, even when they know it's very hurtful behavior," Espelage said. Very few of the programs being used take the peer group into account, she said.

The co-authors on the study were Melissa Holt, a doctoral student at the time of the study, now at the University of New Hampshire, and Rachael Henkel, who was an undergraduate research assistant.

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Related Bullying Articles from Brightsurf:

Gender, age divide in new bullying study
Students' emotional resilience is linked to their chances of being victimised, with less resilient students more likely to suffer from harassment, new research shows.

Anti-bullying PEACE program packs a punch
Italian high schools have reported success with a South Australian program to help victims of bullying and aggression.

Arts-based method to detect school bullying
Co-authors Daria Hanolainen and Elena Semenova created and tested an experimental method of graphical vignettes - a set of incomplete comic strips which kids are asked to complete using their own creative vision.

Bullying gets worse as children with autism get older
Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are more likely to experience bullying than children without ASD and this bullying gets worse with age, according to new research from Binghamton University, State University of New York.

Does obesity increase risk of being a bullying victim, perpetrator, or both?
A new study has shown that obese adolescents are not only significantly more likely to experience bullying, but they are also more likely to be both victims and perpetrators of bullying compared to their healthy weight peers.

Study examines consequences of workplace bullying
New research reveals how frequently being the target of workplace bullying not only leads to health-related problems but can also cause victims to behave badly themselves.

Bullying linked to student's pain medication use
In a school-based survey study of all students in grades 6, 8, and 10 in Iceland, the use of pain medications was significantly higher among bullied students even when controlling for the amount of pain they felt, as well as age, gender, and socioeconomic status.

Teen girls more vulnerable to bullying than boys
Girls are more often bullied than boys and are more likely to consider, plan, or attempt suicide, according to research led by a Rutgers University-Camden nursing scholar.

Bullying among adolescents hurts both the victims and the perpetrators
About a tenth of adolescents across the globe have been the victim of psychological or physical violence from their classmates.

Bullying evolves with age and proves difficult to escape from
An international team from the Universities of Cordoba, Cambridge and Zurich conducted a study on bullying roles among peers.

Read More: Bullying News and Bullying Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to