Rebels without applause: New study on peer victimization

September 28, 2010, Concordia University

Loners and antisocial kids who reject other children are often bullied at school - an accepted form of punishment from peers as they establish social order. Such peer victimization may be an extreme group response to control renegades, according to a new study from Concordia University published in the Journal of Early Adolescence.

"For groups to survive, they need to keep their members under control," says author William M. Bukowski, a professor at the Concordia Department of Psychology and director of its Centre for Research in Human Development. "Withdrawn individuals threaten the strong social fabric of a group, so kids are victimized when they are too strong or too antisocial. Victimization is a reaction to anyone who threatens group harmony."

Bukowski notes that the word victimization is related to the word for sacrifice and speculates the term remains relevant in establishing modern dynamics among kids. "Peers who are victimized are sacrificed for the survival of the group."

The study, which focused on 367 English-speaking kids enrolled in grades five and six at public schools in Montreal, was undertaken to gain better insight into what makes some kids popular while others are perceived as victims or bullies.

The research team focused on social versus among kids. "Using aggression in ways that are acceptable by peers is critical in children keeping their social status and, in turn, their social dominance," says Bukowski, noting physical attractiveness and could also influence peer standing. "We found dominant children used organized, instrumental types of relational aggression to position themselves."

To ascertain whether kids were leaders, victims or bullies, Bukowski and his team asked participants - 176 boys and 191 girls - to rate same gender peers on 17 characteristics. Bullies, for instance, were characterized as kids "who says bad things behind other people's backs; who purposely keep others out of their group; who tell friends they'll stop liking them unless they do what they want."

Alpha-kids were described as "someone who others kids usually follow; someone who is often a leader; someone who always get their own way."

Victims, for their part, were described as "someone who gets hit or kicked by other kids; someone who gets beaten up by other kids; someone who gets ignored; someone who other kids say mean things about behind their back."

Bukowski, who observed many instances of peer victimization in his previous career as a math teacher in elementary and high-schools, says educators and parents can help protect children from being victimized and prevent alpha-kids from becoming bullies.

"No one wants to blame the victim, so teachers and parents always focus on bullies, but it's important to treat symptoms in peer victimization and not only the causes," he says.

To prevent victimization in classrooms and help neutralize bullying, teachers should foster egalitarian environments, where access to power is shared, he continues. "Parents and educators should also encourage children who are withdrawn to speak up and assert themselves."

Explore further: Boy-girl bullying in middle grades more common than previously thought

More information:

Related Stories

Jeers of peers may affect adolescent adjustment

August 6, 2008

New research suggests that traits such as obesity during adolescence that may increase the risk of attacks from peers can result in health and psychological struggles that remain through young adulthood. The researchers say ...

Who is likely to become a bully, victim or both?

July 8, 2010

Children and adolescents who lack social problem-solving skills are more at risk of becoming bullies, victims or both than those who don't have these difficulties, says new research published by the American Psychological ...

Recommended for you

Unprecedented study of Picasso's bronzes uncovers new details

February 17, 2018

Musee national Picasso-Paris and the Northwestern University/Art Institute of Chicago Center for Scientific Studies in the Arts (NU-ACCESS) have completed the first major material survey and study of the Musee national Picasso-Paris' ...

Using Twitter to discover how language changes

February 16, 2018

Scientists at Royal Holloway, University of London, have studied more than 200 million Twitter messages to try and unravel the mystery of how language evolves and spreads.

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

5 / 5 (1) Sep 28, 2010
"We found dominant children used organized, instrumental types of relational aggression to position themselves."
This is all the study accomplished?

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.