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June 12, 2013

Context specific characteristics of bullying incidents associated with feelings of humiliation, worry, and physical symptomatology

Nishina, A. (2012). Microcontextual characteristics of peer victimization experiences and adolescents’ daily wellbeing. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 41, 191-201.

This study set out to examine whether “microcontextual factors” of peer victimisation were related to young people’s reports of humiliation, worry, and physical symptomatology. “Microcontextual factors” are factors specific to an individual victimisation incident. These may vary considerably across a series of victimisation experiences. The author was particularly interested in the effects of how many aggressors were present (one or many), whether there were witnesses to the event, and whether the young person received help on days that they reported being victimised.

Dr Nishina recorded incidents of victimisation using a daily diary methodology. She got 150 6th graders (around 11 years old) and 150 9th graders (around 14 years old) to complete diaries on 5 days across a two week period.

Number of aggressors: When young people experienced victimisation at the hands of a single aggressor, there was no change in their reported levels of humiliation on those days. However, there was an increase in humiliation when victimised by multiple peers. For worry, victimisation by a single aggressor predicted an increase in worry for boys but not girls.

Presence of witnesses: Humiliation increased when victimisation was witnessed but not when it was private. Worry increased on days where there were experiences of private victimisation. Worry also increased as a consequence of public victimisation, but only among boys.

Receipt of help: Humiliation increased on days where there was victimisation but no help, and no change in humiliation when there was help. Worry only increased on victimisation days when boys DID get help (there was no variation in the relationship between worry and victimisation according to levels of help for girls). There was no difference in physical symptoms according to levels of help received.

These are interesting results. They indicate that while most researchers (myself included) summarise the effects of bullying and peer victimisation in a more ‘blunt’ manner (averaging across a number of incidents to get an overall picture), there are important effects which are specific to characteristics of individual bullying episodes.

Some of these results make intuitive sense, for example, that humiliation increases when there are more witnesses or more aggressors. Other results suggest that the short-term benefits of common antibullying strategies may not all be positive, i.e. getting help can increase worry for boys. Why might this be the case? In my own work (Hunter et al., 2004), I found that there were no significant differences in who boys and girls turned to for help, so perhaps the important point here is how they use the help that they seek out.