WHY BULLYING MAY INCREASE IN MIDDLE SCHOOL
by Anthony Pellegrini, Ph.D. & Maria Bartini, M.S.
In a long term study of bullying, researcher Maria Bartini, M.S., of the University of Georgia and psychologist Anthony D. Pellegrini, Ph.D., of the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities found that bullying increased with the initial transition from fifth to sixth grade and then declined. Bullying was also used as a strategy to establish dominance in new peer groups as the students entered a new and bigger school.
"Once the dominance is established and their place with their new friends is secure," said the researchers, "the aggression subsides. But some students bully throughout their school years, never feeling secure in their peer alliances." This finding was discovered by asking 154 fifth grade students (87 males and 67 females) to rate their own and each other's popularity, friendships and feelings of isolation. The students were also asked how often they engaged in bullying behavior and how often bullies have victimized them. Their teachers were asked to rate the fifth graders' emotional intensity.
A year later when the students moved into sixth grade, direct observations of the student's behavior and written diaries by the students were added to the other measurements of peer nominations, self-report measures and students' behaviors rated by teachers to assess the changes in bullying behavior.
"Our findings do support that early adolescence witnesses an increase in aggression while youngsters look for new friendships. As soon as peer groups are formed, many of the aggressive behaviors subside," said the researchers. "We also found that boys engage in and support bullying behaviors more than girls and fifth grade bullies were also sixth grade bullies, even after making the transition to a new school and making new friends. And, having friends in sixth grade did not necessarily protect a student from a bully's target. However, having friends did inhibit victimization. Those that were most aggressive also received the highest ratings from teachers on emotional intensity."
Anthony Pellegrini, Ph.D., can be reached at (612) 625-4353
The American Psychological Association (APA), in Washington, DC, is the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States and is the world's largest association of psychologists. APA's membership includes more than 159,000 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants and students. Through its divisions in 50 subfields of psychology and affiliations with 58 state, territorial and Canadian provincial associations, APA works to advance psychology as a science, as a profession and as a means of promoting human welfare.
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