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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Prevalence and Impact of Peer Victimization Among Gifted Adolescents

  • Author(s): Erwin, Jesse
  • Advisor(s): Worrell, Frank C.
  • et al.

Few studies directly examine the relationship between giftedness and peer victimization. Despite the limited available data, there is an abundance of prescriptive advice addressing the unique challenges for gifted students. Such advice derives from research on the psychosocial characteristics of gifted youth (at best) or outdated misperceptions of gifted youth as inherently vulnerable (at worst). The purpose of this dissertation was to elucidate the giftedness-victimization link by utilizing measurement and sampling that improve upon research to date. The first goal was to assess victimization frequency of gifted youth and make comparisons to similar non-gifted peers. The second goal was to examine whether victimization was more strongly tied to self-worth, anxiety, and depression for gifted youth compared to their non-gifted peers. At the outset of the study, it was hypothesized that no discernible differences would emerge between gifted and non-gifted students.

Data for this dissertation were collected as part of the UCLA Middle School Diversity Project, a multisite longitudinal study of California middle school students from diverse ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds (N = 6,058). The analytical sample in the current study consisted of 2,888 students in Grade 6, 50% of whom had been identified for gifted and talented education (GATE) programs. The other 50% consisted of non-GATE students matched on potential covariates using propensity score analysis. Data were collected using surveys in which students reported their experiences with victimization, their self-perceptions, and symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Contrary to the stated hypotheses, the results indicated that gifted students were victimized significantly less than non-gifted peers for almost every form of victimization. The exception was physical victimization, and several potential interpretations are offered. Analyses examining the impact of victimization were mixed. Victimization was more strongly linked to depressive symptoms for gifted students (b = .049), but significant differences did not emerge on measures of self-worth or anxiety. Although the need for future research is clear, these findings represent a meaningful expansion of knowledge in this area and help to refute simplistic characterizations of gifted youth.

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