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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Understanding Relational and Physical Bullying Profiles: The Importance of School Climate and Social Status

  • Author(s): Binmoeller, Cecile
  • Advisor(s): Jimerson, Shane
  • et al.

Cross-national studies consistently reveal that bullying is a pervasive problem in schools and associated with a multitude of deleterious outcomes. The present dissertation conducted two studies to further provide insight into this complex phenomenon and facilitate the development of effective bullying prevention programs. Youth involved in bullying have historically been assigned to fixed bully participant roles (i.e., bully, victim, defender, and bystander) using classification systems based on relatively arbitrary cut off scores. Latent class analysis (LCA) was utilize in the first study to empirically identify bully participant role profiles in seventh and eighth grade based on assuming multiple bully participant roles at varying degrees. Four separate LCA models were run, two relational bullying LCAs and two physical bullying LCAs split by gender. Among female students, a four-class model emerged for both the relational and physical LCAs. Regarding males, a three-class model emerged for both the relational and physical LCAs. All four LCAs yielded a High Involvement class and a Low Involvement class. Concerning females, there was a consistent third class, called Defender, in both the relational and physical LCAs. However, the fourth class in the females’ relational LCA was called Victim Defender while in the physical LCA, the fourth class was call Bystander/Defender. Among males, the third class in the relational LCA was called Defender, but the third class in the physical LCA was called Victim. Overall, these findings build upon previous research on bully participant roles by demonstrating that students can assume multiple roles simultaneously and at varying degrees. In addition, this study revealed gender specific effects that varied according to whether the bullying was physical or relational.

To broaden our understanding of how socio-ecological factors influence bullying, a second study investigated how the bullying profiles identified in Study 1 relate to school climate factors and perceptions of social status. Specifically, three school climate factors were examined, including school-wide efforts to reduce bullying, student knowledge of how to address bullying, and direct communication between students and school staff about bullying. The two components of social status were self-reported levels of popularity and likability. Overall, across all four LCAs, self-perceived likability significantly predicted class membership. Self-perceived popularity significantly predicted class membership for male students and the physical LCA only. In terms of the school climate factors, all three components significantly predicted class membership among female students, for both physical and relational bullying. The school climate factors did not significantly predict group membership among male students for either physical or relational bullying. These findings suggest that the impact of socio-ecological factors on bullying is nuanced and complex, as it varied by gender and type of bullying. Understanding these nuances can help inform practitioners designing interventions that target the multifaceted needs of students involved in bullying.

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