Sleep Deprivation as a Function of Bully-Induced Conflict: Interruptions of College Students’ Peaceful Sleep

Elena V. Chudnovskaya, Ph.D.

Diane M. Millette, Ed.D.

Michael J. Beatty, Ph.D.


Bullying creates stress from conflict in interpersonal relationships, and has a negative impact on the mental and physiological health of victims, including depression and anxiety. However, little attention has been focused on the impact of bullying on the physical health of victims. The purpose of this study was to examine whether bullying had a negative impact on victims’ quality of sleep, since lack of sleep can cause diseases, depression, and even suicidal tendency. Participants of this study included 418 undergraduate students at a southeastern university in the United States. Confirmatory Factor Analysis (CFA) was conducted in order to evaluate how types of traditional bullying associated with sleep disturbance. The results indicated that interpersonal conflict associated with traditional bullying in the form of verbal and social victimization correlated with the sleep quality of victims. Implications of this study are discussed, along with limitations and suggestions for future research.

Keywords: traditional bullying, physical health, sleep disturbance

Adolescents often experience bullying at schools. The rates of bullying in the United States have increased with the number of students that report being victimized doubling from 2001 to 2011 (Davis, Stafford, & Pullig, 2014). According to the U.S. National Center for Education Statistics (2013), 5,386,000 students (22%) ages 12 through 18 reported being bullied at school, and 1,713,000 students (7%) indicated being bullied online (as cited in Robers, Zhang, Morgan, & Musu-Gillette, 2015). Bullying can harm youths to an extent where they see death as the only way to escape their pain, and some victims commit suicide or demonstrate an intention towards suicide (Hazelden Foundation, 2007; Mueller, James, Abrutyn, & Levin, 2015): “Eight out of every 100,000 teenagers committed suicide in 2000 as a result of bullying” (U.S. National Institute of Mental Health, 2000, as cited in Hashem, 2015, p. 117).
Bullying is a serious problem at an individual, social, and organizational level (Craig & Pepler, 2007; Koo, 2007; Roscigno et al., 2009). This antisocial behavior is usually an issue associated with K-12 grade levels, which is considered not to exist once students enter college (Krasselt, 2014). However, this is a misconception since bullying can occur in almost any environmental setting, including elementary and high schools, post-secondary schools, and professional organizations (Lutgen-Sandvik & McDermott, 2011; Misawa, 2015; Olweus, 1995). According to a 2010 U.S. Workplace Bullying Survey, 35% of the U.S. workforce (estimated 53.5 million Americans) reported being bullied at work (Workplace Bullying Institute, 2010). Bullying generates harmful organizational outcomes by creating a hostile environment in the workplace, where frequent interpersonal conflicts and violence cause decreased productivity, as well as increase staff turnover and job stress (Lutgen-Sandvik, 2003; Misawa, 2015).
Consequences of bullying can have a negative impact not only on victims and their families, but also on organizations and communities causing significant financial and social costs to the general public (Kemp-Graham & Hendricks, 2015). The nature of bullying is rooted in anti-social and rule-breaking behaviors, and there is a strong correlation between bullying in early adolescence and later criminality (Olweus, 2011). On the individual level, bullying has a negative impact on psychological health of the victims, and can cause stress, depression, and anxiety. Although, there are many studies addressing the correlation between bullying and victims’ psychology, little attention has focused on the influence of bullying on physical health. A few studies demonstrate that bullying can weaken the victims’ physical health, causing an increased risk of infectious disease, asthma, ulcers, and strokes (Schat et al., 2005). As a result, poor health conditions cause increased absences and poor academic performance in schools, and decreased productivity in the workplace.
Scholars in areas such as sociology, psychology, and business also examined this phenomenon to understand various tools that could be utilized to eliminate bullying and prevent its negative consequences (e.g., Jamal et al. 2015; Pilch & Turska, 2015; Samnani, Boekhorst, & Harrison, 2016). Bullying is recognized as a communication phenomenon through interaction between the parties involved in bullying (Tracy et al., 2005), including verbal and nonverbal bullying. Therefore, exploring the process of bullying and its mechanism is important from a communication research lens to find ways to prevent its potential destructive consequences on interpersonal relationships. Previous communication research focused primarily on negative interactions in bullying, including conflict experiences in families and organizations (e.g. Clair, 1993; Matsunaga, 2009; Tracy et al., 2005). The overall goal of this current study is examining the impact of bullying as a communication phenomenon on physical health of the victims.
The effects of bullying are damaging to individuals in various contexts, including academic settings. Keashly (2015) noted, “25-35 percent of faculty have been targets of workplace bullying with 40-50 percent reporting they have witnessed someone else being bullied” (p. 24). In the past, scholars paid little attention to this issue and its consequences in university settings. The present student is a step towards filling this gap by examining the prevalence of bullying in universities. In addition, this study aims to evaluate the impact of bullying on victims’ physical health. Although there are many studies indicating that bullying has a negative correlation with the psychological and mental health of victims (Trépanier, Fernet, & Austin, 2013; Verkuil, Atasayi, & Molendijk, 2015), insufficient research addresses the influence of bullying on physical health. One of the important elements of physical health is sleep (Hongyun et al., 2017; Yilmaz, Tanrikulu, & Dikmen, 2017). Lack of sleep can have a negative impact on social interactions and cause diseases, including memory loss, slow response, and irritability, which can influence development of depression and suicidal tendency. Sleep problems are also associated with poor academic performance and work related accidents. Since few studies address bullying as a stressor causing sleep disturbance, this research will examine the impact that bullying has on the victim’s physical health and quality of sleep.
History of Bullying
Bullying has always been a part of social life (Koo, 2007; Olweus, 1995; Roscigno, Lopez, & Hodson, 2009). Bullying attracted public attention when The Times published a story about a soldier’s death as a result of bullying in 1862. The Times was the first to address the critical issues of bullying and the serious consequences that can follow such behavior (Koo, 2007). This story may have shocked many people since society did not consider the behaviors that caused this death to be harmful, therefore, accepted bullying as a normal behavior. As bullying became more prevalent, this problem began to draw attention, and the public wanted to know more about this phenomenon. Another tragic incident was the death of a twelve-year old boy in King’s School in the U.K. in 1885. This schoolboy died from bullying behaviors by an older group (Koo, 2007). At that time, no punishment was given to the boys involved since bullying was considered a misadventure, and acceptable among young males as a normal part of school life (Koo, 2007).
The next wave of interest regarding peer bullying was in Scandinavia during the 1960s and 1970s (Olweus, 2013). These studies included diverse populations, although they mostly focused on bullying in schools (Koo, 2007; Olweus, 1995, 2011). Anti-bullying research in Scandinavian countries lead to the development of national campaigns to prevent bullying, which were successfully implemented in Norway and Sweden. Later Finland, United Kingdom, Ireland and Japan developed similar interventions (Smith & Brain, 2000). In the late 1990s, anti-bullying initiatives and campaigns were implemented in other European countries (i.e., Ireland, Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, Italy, Spain, Portugal, France, Switzerland), as well as in Australia and New Zealand (Smith & Brain, 2000). In the United States, the bullying problem attracted increased interest of scholars and policy makers after several school shootings, e.g., Amish Schoolhouse in 2006, Columbine High School in 1999. Victimization of students being bullied was connected to these shocking events (Duplechain & Morris, 2014; Olweus & Limber, 2010). Tragic situations such as these also contributed to the development of state laws addressing bullying in schools (Smith & Brain, 2000).
Bulling: Demonstration of Social Agression
Process of Bullying
Definitions of bullying typically identify the following criteria: (1) Aggressive behavior with intention to do harm; (2) imbalance of power; and (3) process carried out repeatedly over time (Houbre, Tarquinio, Thuillier, & Hergott, 2006; Olweus, 1995; Pörhölä, Karhunen, & Rainivaara, 2006). Researchers identified main parties and roles involved in the bullying process, including the “bully or perpetrator,” “target or victim,” “bully-victim,” and “bystander” (Houbre et al., 2006; Liepe-Levinson & Levinson, 2005; Olweus, 1995).
Bullies or perpetrators. Bullies use a higher level of power compared to their victims, which is intended to insult or attack the victims (Liepe-Levinson & Levinson, 2005). Bullies engage in a conscious hostility toward the victims, and communicate behavior through verbal and non-verbal aggression (i.e., physical and relational) (Liepe-Levinson & Levinson, 2005). Typical bullies often demonstrate an aggressive reaction pattern combined with physical strength (Olweus, 1995). Bullies are often highly emotional, hot tempered, and hyperactive (Yang & Salmivalli, 2015).
Targets or victims.

Victims are individuals who are attacked or insulted by bullies (Olweus, 1995). Victims usually experience fear and a feeling of helplessness (Liepe-Levinson & Levinson, 2005; Olweus (1995), as well as being cautious, sensitive, and quiet (Liepe-Levinson & Levinson, 2005). Victims are often more anxious, depressed and insecure than others in general, and tend to have a negative view of themselves and low self-esteem (Yang & Salmivalli, 2015). Victim-boys are often physically weaker than other boys at school, and are usually viewed as insecure individuals unwilling to resist aggression by bullies (Olweus, 1995). Bullying during childhood could have long term dangerous consequences for victims, “leave scars on their minds” (Olweus, 1995, p. 197), and are more likely to experience higher levels of depression and lower levels of self-esteem when older than non-victimized peers.

Bully-victims assume the roles of both bully and victim during different bullying situations (Craig et. al, 2009). Previous research indicated that bully-victims usually bully others more often than pure bullies (e.g., only a bully) and were victimized more frequently than pure victims (e.g., only a victim) (Yang & Salmivalli, 2013). When victimized by more powerful peers, bully-victims may turn to others whom they perceive to be weaker victims for bullying perpetration. It is possible that deficits in self-regulation and aggressive impulsive behaviors of bully-victims allow their peers and teachers to think that peer rejection and maltreatment is “deserved,” thereby reducing the empathy felt towards them (Yang & Salmivalli, 2015).

Bystanders are those who witness or are aware of the bullying behavior, but do nothing to prevent violence against the victim as most bystanders are afraid of becoming the next victim (Hutchinson, 2012). Bystanders simply stand-by and witness how a bully mistreats or insults the victim, which communicates approval for inappropriate behavior of the bully. This silent approval empowers the bully and undermines the victim’s power (Liepe-Levinson & Levinson, 2005). In most cases, bystanders do not like to be involved in a bullying situation as they dislike the bully’s behavior (Liepe-Levinson & Levinson, 2005), which causes bystanders to experience symptoms of psychological distress (Nielsen & Einarsen, 2013).
Traditional Bullying
Bullies use verbal and nonverbal behaviors during the bullying process (Tracy et al., 2005), and communicate their aggressiveness to the victims directly and indirectly. Researchers recognize traditional bullying, which occur through personal interactions, and cyberbullying, or misbehavior through technology (e.g., email, instant messaging, and websites). Traditional bullying includes verbal, physical, and social misbehavior.
Verbal bullying.

Verbal bullying is found in “70 percent of all reported incidents of bullying” (Liepe-Levinson & Levinson, 2005, p. 6), which includes withholding information, humiliating, ridiculing, starting rumors, gossiping, insulting, offensive remarks, shouting at, teasing, sarcasm, persisting criticism, and threating violence (Ockerman et al., 2014). Other strategies used by bullies are name calling, taunting, belittling, and teasing, as well as using racist, sexist, and ageist slurs (Liepe-Levinson & Levinson, 2005).
Physical bullying.

Although physical bullying is the most visible form, it is less common, representing approximately 30% of bullying interactions (Liepe-Levinson & Levinson, 2005). This type of bullying includes biting, choking, scratching, spitting, tickling, and destroying property of the victim (Heeman, 2007). Other strategies are “crashing into a student on purpose as she/he walked by,” “getting into a physical fight with a student because a bully does not like him/her,” “slapping or punching a student,” and “throwing something at a student to hit him/her” (Hamburger, Basile, & Vivolo, 2011, p. 44).
Social bullying.

Social or relational bullying is also referred to as relational aggression (Liepe-Levinson & Levinson, 2005). Relational bullying diminishes the target’s self-esteem and includes ignoring, isolating, excluding, taunting, gossiping, writing negative notes, and spreading rumors. Social bullying includes stares, rolling eyes, sighs, frowns, and sneers (Heeman, 2007). Strategies used by bullies during the process of relational bullying are “letting students out of activities or games on purpose,” “getting other students to ignore the victim,” and “getting other students to start rumors about the victim” (Hamburger et al., 2011, p. 44).
Bullying in Different Contexts
Bullying in Primary and Secondary Schools

Bullying is one of the most serious issues in primary and secondary schools (Allen, 2010; Annerbäck, Sahlqvist, & Wingren, 2014; Cemaloglu, 2011; Cowan, 2012; Shetgiri et al., 2015). Educators, psychiatrists, and mental health professionals address this issue worldwide due to its negative consequences on social life and well-being of the victims. In the U.S., approximately three million students were bullied each year resulting in as many as 160,000 students skipping school for fear of being victimized (American Public Health Association, n.d., as cited in Yu-Ying & Jiun-Hau, 2015). The occurrence of different types of bullying among 6th to 12th grade students in 2005-2006 was estimated as follows: 21% physical bullying, 53% verbal bullying, 51% social bullying, and 14% cyber bullying (Shetgiri, 2013). Given the increase of social media, it would be expected that cyber bullying has also increased among students. In addition to widely spread victimization among peers at schools, bullying could be expressed as top-down (teacher-student) and bottom-up processes (student-teacher). Twemlow and Fonagy (2005) define a bullying teacher as “one who uses his or her power to punish, manipulate, or disparage a student beyond what would be a reasonable disciplinary procedure” (p. 2387). Researchers previously stated about half of the students were bullied by teachers in schools (Allen, 2010; Twemlow, Fonagy, Sacco, & Brethour, 2006). On the other hand, Terry (1998) reported high school teachers often become victims of students’ misbehavior as well.
Bullying in Universities
Although there are many studies focusing on bullying in primary and secondary schools, this issue also occurs in universities among faculty-to-student, student-to-faculty, student-to-student, and faculty-to-faculty (Luparell, 2007; Marchiondo, Marchiondo, & Lasiter, 2010; Mott, 2014; Raineri, Frear, & Edmonds, 2011). In a 2011 study conducted at the University of Indiana, 22% of college students reported being victims of cyberbullying, and 15% reported traditional bullying (Krasselt, 2014). Mott (2014) examined victimization of undergraduate nursing students in the United States, who often reported cases of bullying by faculty members in nursing education (e.g., belittling, targeting, and being unresponsive or unreceptive to students’ needs, questions, and unprofessionalism). Clarke, Kane, Rajacich, and Lafreniere (2012) studied bullying in clinical nursing education among Canadian undergraduate nursing students. Their findings indicated that nursing students experienced and witnessed different frequencies of bullying behaviors most notably by clinical instructors and staff nurses.
Bullying in the Workplace
Workplace bullying is sometimes called “mobbing” (e.g. Ertureten, Cemalcilar, & Aycan, 2013; Ozturk, Sokmen, Yilmaz, & Cilingir, 2008) that builds upon a combination of behaviors by workers occurring in various forms, such as harassment, emotional abuse, and incivility (Einarsen, 1999). Workplace bullying could be executed by supervisors towards subordinates, among subordinates, and subordinates toward supervisors (Salin, 2003; Vandekerckhove & Commers, 2003). The mostly widespread form of workplace bullying in the U.S. and Europe is bullying by a supervisor against a subordinate, or top-down bullying (Vandekerckhove & Commers, 2003). Workplace bullying can be a result of various social and individual factors, including strong interpersonal conflict (e.g., conflict-related bullying), authoritative abuse (Pilch & Turska, 2015), low salaries, stressful work environment, and professional jealousy (Wright & Hill, 2015). The level of bullying in a workplace depends on the kind of organization, and can range from 30% to 50% (Cox, 1991; Lutgen-Sandvik, 2003, 2007; Lutgen-Sandvik & Tracy, 2012; Spratlen, 1995; Van Fleet & Van Fleet, 2012). Workplace bullying presents significant costs for employers, including employees refocusing energy from productivity to self-protection, replacing absent victims, processing formal complaints, and damage a company’s image (Bartlett & Bartlett, 2011; Moayed, Daraiseh, Shell, & Salem, 2006; Namie, 2007; Lutgen-Sandvik, 2003; Rogers & Kelloway, 1997). Workplace bullying also contributes to financial damages in various countries. In the United States, “the annual approximate total organizational monetary loss due to bullying of the LGBT sector is $35 trillion” (Hollis & McCalla, 2013, p.10). Australia workplace bullying cost between $6 billion and $36 billion every year (Productivity Commission, 2010, as cited in Skinner et al., 2015).
Bullying and Victims’ Health
Impact of Bullying on Psychological Health

Many researchers agree that bullying can lead to significant psychological, physical, and emotional consequences in victims, which results in anger, frustration, depression, and decreased confidence (Hase, Goldberg, Smith, Stuck, & Campain, 2015; Liu & Graves, 2011; Mott, 2014; Owusu et al., 2011; Rodwell & Demir, 2012; Trépanier et al., 2013; Zou, Andersen, & Blosnich, 2013). Owusu et al. (2011) examined the impact of bullying on the physiological health of senior high school students in Ghana, West Africa, and analyzed data from a 2008 Ghana Global School-based Student Health Survey. The study revealed that about 40% of the total 7,137 participants were victimized by bullying and were more likely to experience psychological health issues compared with those who has not been bullied. The reported health issues included signs of depression, suicide ideation, and sleep disorder. Menesini, Modena, and Tani (2009) conducted research among 1,278 students enrolled in 13 secondary schools in Italy. Almost half of the participants reported being involved in the bullying process, including 140 victims and 81 bully/victims. The results of this study indicated that victims and bully/victims experienced higher degrees of anxiety, depression, and withdrawal in comparison with the other groups. In the U.S., Greenleaf, Petrie, and Martin (2014) examined the impact of weight-based teasing on adolescents’ psychological well-being among middle school students from the six middle schools in a central southern state. Out of 1,419 participants, approximately 17% reported being teased because they were overweight. The findings demonstrated that victims experienced higher levels of depression and lower degrees of self-esteem, physical self-concept, and physical activity self-efficacy.
Bullying has a negative impact on psychological health among adults as well, and can cause depression, loneliness, insomnia, nervous symptoms, melancholy, apathy, lack of concentration and sociophobia (Ekici & Beder, 2014; Einarsen, 1999; Iyer-Eimerbrink, Scielzo, & Jensen-Campbell, 2015; Verkuil, Atasayi, & Molendijk 2015; Wang, Iannotti, & Luk, 2012). Negative health outcomes are associated with increased absenteeism, staff turnover, burnout, lower job satisfaction and decreased morale. Because of high levels of stress and decreased levels of self-confidence, victims often use sick leave and worker’s compensation to deal with stress, or quit jobs, and in some extreme cases commit suicide (Cemaloglu, 2011). Trépanier et al. (2013) conducted research investigating how exposure to workplace bullying undermines psychological health among 1,179 nurses, and found that being a victim of bullying had a negative impact reporting higher burnout and lower work engagement. Dehue, Bolman, Völlink, and Pouwelse (2012) examined the mental and physical health consequences of bullying in the workplace among 361 employees, and confirmed victimization was negatively associated with participants’ well-being and health, especially depressive symptoms. Similarly, Ekici and Beder (2014) examined workplace bullying and its effects on performance and depression at a university hospital in Turkey. Researchers found that psychological violence at work was associated with depression of physicians and nurses. In Norway, Einarsen and Nielsen (2015) analyzed the impact of bullying on a sample of 1,613 employees over a five-year time lag. The findings indicated that bullying can cause long-term symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Impact of Bullying on Physical Health
Although several studies revealed that bullying has a negative impact on mental and psychological well-being of victims, some evidence indicated that bullying positively correlates with physical health. This can be explained by the fact that stressful life experiences have a negative impact on psychological functioning resulting in a wide range of physical diseases and symptoms (Schat, Kelloway, & Desmarais, 2005). Stressful situations can negatively influence psychological welfare of victims and weaken their immune system, causing an increase of susceptibility to various diseases (Schat et al., 2005). For example, work-related stress is associated with increased risk of infectious disease, asthma, ulcers, and strokes as a result of the suppressed immune functioning (Schat et al., 2005).
Studies providing evidence of bullying associated with negative physical health outcomes mostly concentrate on victims at school and in the workplace. Baldry (2004) conducted research among 661 adolescents from ten different middle schools in Rome. Findings indicated that bullying was associated with mental and physical health of these students resulting in long lasting negative effects. Dehue et al. (2012) examined influence of bullying on the mental and physical health among 361 employees in the Netherlands. Researchers found that victims of frequent bullying reported more health issues (e.g., depressive symptoms, headaches, palpitations, and back pain), than non- or rarely victimized employees. Overall, negative health outcomes are associated with increased absenteeism, burnout, lower job satisfaction and lower morale, as well as organization-related effects damaging productivity and reputation (Verkuil, Atasayi, & Molendijk, 2015).
Little attention has been paid to the impact of bullying as one of the main reasons of stress on physical health of victims among undergraduate students. A study by Politis and colleagues (2014) provided a sample of 2,427 adolescents aged 16 to 18 years old in Greece to investigate the association between bullying and subjective health complaints. Researchers found that victims of bullying were more likely to report backache, dizziness, and fatigue. In the U.S., Woodford, Kulick, and Atteberry (2015) conducted research among undergraduates and graduate students in a Midwest university. The results revealed that interpersonal heterosexist discrimination can cause negative health outcomes among minority students associated with symptoms of depression and anxiety, and negative outcomes for physical health, such as headaches and sleeping problems.
Sleep Disturbance
Sleep is an essential element of our life and one of the basic human needs that is directly related to health and quality of life, as well as influences our social and cultural interactions (Hongyun et al., 2017; Yilmaz et al., 2017). High quality of sleep is an important element in clinics and related research, associated with feeling energetic and fit. Low quality of sleep is an indicator of a wide range of medical diseases. Nowadays, difficulties with sleep is a prevalent complaint among the general population in Western countries, with rates of self-reported insomnia ranging between 10 and 48% (Hongyun et al., 2017).There is strong relationship between physical and psychological wellness and sleep (Hongyun et al., 2017; Lee, Wuertz, Rogers, & Chen, 2013; Takeuchi, Nakao, & Yano, 2007; Yilmaz et al., 2017). Long-term sleep problems could cause thought retardation, memory loss, slow response, low spirit, and irritability. It can influence development of depression and suicidal tendency. In the workplace, chronic sleep issues are associated with greater work absenteeism and work related accidents or injuries (Hongyun et al., 2017). An important factor found to cause sleep disturbance was occupational stress. Lee, Wuertz, Rogers, and Chen (2013) conducted research among 676 professionals in South Africa, including architects, engineers, surveyors, and project and construction managers. They found physiological effects of workplace stress include disturbances of sleep patterns, difficulty in concentrating and relaxing after hours (Lee et al., 2013). Takeuchi et al. (2007) conducted a 20-year study among workers, and reported that sleep disturbance and fatigue were important factors causing a long-term depressive state. Sleep disturbances were also common among college students, which could be associated with stress derived from academic challenges and daily life (Lee et al., 2013). Magee et al. (2015) examined the relationship between workplace bullying and sleep quality among Australian employees. The findings revealed association of bullying with the poor sleep quality. Hansen et al. (2016) conducted a study among public and private sector employees, and found support that workplace bullying is related to development of some sleep problems (i.e., problems staying awake and lack of restful sleep). Zhou et al. (2015) conducted research among high school students in six cities in China and found being involved in bullying behaviors was related to increased risks of poor sleep quality. However, there are not many studies addressing influence of bullying on the quality of sleep for students in U.S. universities.
Research Questions
Numerous studies indicated that bullying has a negative correlation with physiological and mental health of the victims (Trépanier et al., 2013; Verkuil et al., 2015), specifically in a university environment. When studies were conducted, it was seldom clear what specific type of bullying had a negative impact on the victim’s health. The current research examined how different forms of bullying influenced the physical health of victims in an academic setting using a communication lens, and examined the influence of traditional bullying on quality of sleep among undergraduate students.
Rather than advancing a scientific theory of bullying, this project should be viewed as an initial exploration to an applied problem, namely the linkage between various types of bullying and victims’ health outcomes. Except for physical, violent manifestation of traditional bullying types such as verbal and social bullying have relied on subjective reactions to socially inappropriate behavior. This study seeks to determine whether the non-physical forms of bullying have quantifiable physical effects on victims. Based on the previous review of literature, the following research questions were proposed:
RQ1: What type of traditional bullying occurs among undergraduate students?
RQ2: Do non-physical forms of traditional bullying have a negative impact on sleep
quality of the victims of bullying?

This study measured the impact of traditional bullying on a victim’s health. Specific examination included forms of traditional bullying (verbal and social) to determine the influence of bullying on quality of sleep for victims.
Participants included 418 undergraduate students, including females (n=284, 68%) and males (n=134, 32%) at a southeastern university in the U.S. Student ages ranged from 18 to 29 (M =20.50, SD = 1.84). Participants were Caucasian 51.8%, Hispanic 23, 4%, Asian 9.3%, African American 8.4%, and Other 7.2% that represented seniors 29.1%, juniors 28.4%, sophomores 22.4% and freshman 8.1%. Participants responded during class to a questionnaire containing demographics and self-report items, which focused on two instruments addressing the following areas: Traditional bullying victimization and physical health outcomes (sleep disturbance).
The following instruments were utilized for this study: (1) Adolescent Peer Relations Instrument-Target measuring victimization by traditional bullying; and (2) Sleep Disturbance subscale from Physical Health Questionnaire measuring physical health outcomes (sleep) of bulling victims (see below for details on instruments).
Adolescent Peer Relations Instrument-Target (APRI-T).Adolescent Peer Relations Instrument-Target (APRI-T) is a part of Adolescent Peer Relations Instrument Bully/Target developed by Parada (2000) and utilized by Hamburger et al. (2011). APRI-T consists of 18 items to measure victimization by traditional bullying (e.g., verbal, physical, and social). Target factor items were preceded by the sentence “In the past year at this school …” The second part of the sentence in the items reflects victimization by three types of bullying: Verbal, physical and social victimization. Verbal victimization is presented by six items: #1, #4, #7, #11, #13, and #18. Examples of items “I was teased by students saying things to me,” and “A student made rude remarks at me.” Social victimization is presented by six items, including items #3, #6, #9, #12, #14, and #17. Examples of items included: “A student wouldn’t be friends with me because other people didn’t like me” and “A student ignored me when they were with their friends.” Physical victimization is presented by six items: #2, #5, #8, #10, #15, and #16. Examples of questions included: “I was pushed or shoved” and “I was hit or kicked hard.” Students were asked to indicate how often they experienced a series of bullying behaviors on a 7-point bipolar scale anchored from “never” at one end and “every day” at the other. The scale was tested by Parada (2000) with reliabilities for the total victimization instrument .95; and subscale scores (verbal, physical, and social victimization) ranging from .83 to 92 (as cited in Hamburger et al., 2011). The reliability subscale scores in this study were as follows: verbal victimization .86, social victimization .82, and physical victimization .81.
Sleep Disturbance. In order to assess student’s physical health, the Spence, Helmreich, and Fred’s (1987) scale revised by Schat, Kelloway, and Desmarais (2005), Physical Health Questionnaire (PHQ), was used in this study. The modified PHQ consists of 14 items and four subscales measuring: sleep disturbance, headaches, gastrointestinal problems, and respiratory infections. For the purpose of this study, sleep disturbance subscale was used to examine impact of bullying on the victims’ quality of sleep. Sleep disturbance subscale items are (1) “How often have you had difficulty getting to sleep at night?” (2) “How often have you woken up during the night?” (3) “How often have you had nightmares or disturbing dreams?” and (4) “How often has your sleep been peaceful and undisturbed?” (Reverse score Item #4.) Reliabilities of the PHQ subscale items were above .70 (Schat et al., 2005). In the present study, students were asked to indicate how often they experienced health issues on a 7-point bipolar scale anchored from “never” at one end and “every day” at the other. The reliability score for sleep disturbance subscale in this study was .67.
This research examined bullying at universities and its effect on physical health of the victims. The study specifically focused on evaluating the impact of traditional bullying on quality of the victims’ sleep utilizing a quantitative approach based on a questionnaire designed for this project.
RQ1: What type of traditional bullying occurs among undergraduate students?
Descriptive statistics demonstrate all types of examined bullying existing among the participants. To address the question “Please indicate how often a student (students) at this school has done the following things [types of bullying] to you since you have been at this school this year,” the answers were measured on the scale from 1 (“Never”) to 7 (“Every day”). The maximum scores (Max) indicate that at least some students experience all types of bullying, with some reporting verbal victimization, physical victimization, social victimization, almost every day. Verbal victimization (Max = 6.33, M=1.45, SD = .77), physical victimization (Max = 5.33, M=1.11, SD =.38), and social victimization (Max = 6.17, M=1.41, SD = .69). Approximately 68.5% experienced traditional bullying. The widely used types of bullying reported by the victims were verbal bullying (56.6%) and social bullying (53.7%); approximately 23% of the participants experienced physical bullying. Due to the fact that the majority of the participants experienced verbal and social bullying, further step was to examine whether these types of bullying influence the victims’ physical health, in particular, the quality of sleep.
RQ2: Do non-physical forms of traditional bullying have a negative impact on sleep quality of the victims of bullying?
In the literature, verbal bullying and social bullying are treated as separate components of bullying. However, to date, evidence supporting the treatment of the measures as separate factors has not been produced. As a starting point, we submitted data from the measures to confirmatory factor analysis (CFA), specifying the six verbal bullying items as indicators of one latent factor and the six social bullying items as indicators of a second latent factor. Although the fit indices indicated reasonable overall fit for a two factor model, RMSEA = .02, CI = .00-.04, SRMR = .04, CFI=.99, TLI = .98, and the factor loadings were acceptable ranging from .80 to .60 (standardized), the interactor correlation, r = .85, exceeded the generally acceptable parameter value, indicating that the distinction between the two factors was artificial. A follow-up model specifying all twelve bullying items as one factor resulted in equally good fit, RMSEA = .03, SRMR = .04, CFI = .95, TLI = .94, factor loading ranging from .59 to . 73, as well as a more parsimonious model of the data.
Upon determination that the twelve bullying items measured one factor, a structural equation model specifying the twelve bullying items as indicators of the bullying latent factors, and the four sleep items as indicators of the sleep disturbance latent factor indicated good overall fit, RMSEA = .04, SRMR = .04, CFI = .95, TLI = .94; with factor loadings for sleep disturbance items ranging from .78 to .38, and a significant correlation, r =.30, p<.05 between bullying and sleep disturbance it indicates a positive answer to research question two. An inspection of modification indices for the unique variances for bullying and sleep disturbance indicated that the error terms for both variables were not significantly correlated. Therefore, the correlation between bullying and sleep disturbance is not likely due to an outside latent variable. Consequently, it is likely that the relationship between bullying and sleep disturbance is a causal one.
Bullying is an intentional act of harm expressed in various ways and often repeated over a certain period of time. It occurs in multiple contexts, including primary and secondary schools, universities, and organizations. This is a serious problem that has attracted public attention for over a century because of its negative affect on both victims and bystanders, as well as an impact on workplace environment, productivity, and profit (Craig & Pepler, 2007; Koo, 2007; Misawa, 2015; Roscigno et al., 2009). Bullying continues to be an issue since it demonstrates anti-social and inappropriate behaviors where victims of bullying have been exposed to experiencing physical and psychological harm.
Results of the present study indicated that a majority of undergraduate participants (68.5%) experienced various types of traditional bullying (verbal, social, and physical), with prevailing rates of verbal (56.6%), and social (53.7%) as indicated by the victims. Students who experienced verbal bullying reported being teased or ridiculed by other students, and bullies making rude remarks to them. Bullies also targeted victims by making jokes about them, negative comments about their looks, and calling them nasty names. As a part of social bullying, victims experienced situations where students would not be friends since they were not liked by others. Some students reported being ignored when bullies were with other friends, or friends turned against victims. Social bullying also included bullies starting rumors about victims, or victims being excluded from invitations to social activities when other students did not like the victims.
While previous research indicates negative effects of bullying, little attention has been given to the relationship of bullying and physical health of the victims, especially its impact on sleep among undergraduate students. Findings of the present study revealed that verbal and social bullying as a communication phenomenon in interpersonal interactions have a negative impact on victims’ physical health such as quality of sleep. Victims reported having difficulty sleeping at night, and experiencing disturbed sleep by waking up multiple times during the night. Sleep is an essential requirement of a person’s health and well-being, and the results of being bullied indicated a negative influence on the quality of sleep. Consequently, prevention of bullying should be considered a priority for universities in order to provide a healthier and less stressful environment.
Implications of Study
The results of this study have significant implications at universities. Providing information about negative health consequences is an important tool to extend awareness of this destructive phenomenon. Traditional bullying typically creates interpersonal problems, as well as negatively influencing a victim’s health. These problems could lead to repeated absences at school, and be negatively associated with academic performance. However, it is possible school counselors are not aware of how serious bullying issues are in their schools, or the availability of bullying prevention and intervention programs (Richardson, 2015).
The university administration should consider development of specific bullying prevention programs (Hertz et al., 2015; Squires st al., 2013) that would be more proactive in deterring bullying on campus (Wajngurt, 2018). It would be beneficial for these programs to include information about various types of bullying, and its negative consequences on the well-being of victims. Students should be informed regarding support systems and resources on campus (e.g., counseling centers and health treatments) to address this problem in order to find an effective solution. Reasons for bullying should be thoroughly evaluated in order to establish a healthier and productive school environment. Bullying prevention programs could be developed based on earlier implemented campaigns. One intervention campaign against bullying was developed in 1983 in Norway using the Olweus Self-Report Questionnaire, and resulted in a decrease of an estimated 50% of bullying (Smith & Brain, 2000). Another effective monitored intervention was conducted in Sheffield, England, from 1991 to 1994. The participating schools observed a decrease in bullying, especially those that developed anti-bullying policies, and programs working with individuals and groups. Other intervention campaigns included anti-bullying programs in Toronto, Canada; Flanders region of Belgium; and Schleswig-Holstein in Germany. All of these campaigns utilized the anti-bullying program developed in 1983 by Olweus (as cited in Smith & Brain, 2000). According to Jones and Augustine (2015), effectiveness of anti-bullying programs in schools depends on involvement of the community to address this problem (i.e., faculty, staff, students, parents, and administrators). Programs should focus on teaching children and adults to be empathetic towards others. Another way to increase effectiveness of anti-bullying programs is “to prepare and promote the professional skills of teachers and school counselors to deal effectively with behavioral problems of students” (Vahedi, Fathi Azar, & Golparvar, 2016, p. 68). Wajngurt (2018) recommends educating faculty and staff about the existence of different forms of bullying through conferences and/or special events. Another way to prevent negative consequences of bullying is to create a help desk or anonymous email address for students who have been bullied. Counseling departments should periodically review anti-bullying interventions and promote awareness of health risks associated with bullying and offer professional help and support to the victims (Wajngurt, 2018). It is also important that anti-bullying policies and procedures are adopted in organizations (Francis, 2015). In order to prevent bullying and harassment, employers, managers and employees should be trained to recognize assertiveness and aggression, as well as implementing conflict resolution strategies (Etienne, 2014). Spreading awareness of bullying, as well as development of prevention programs, is important for maintaining a healthy atmosphere in any environment.
Limitations and Suggestions for Future Research
One limitation of the present study was the impact of bullying on victims’ physical health evaluated based on self-report surveys. Self-report tools reflect victims’ perception and may not provide an accurate assessment of their situation. Students may report being bullied because of low self-esteem, therefore, assuming that any negative communication or situation is bullying. Some individuals who perceive themselves as victims or become targets of bullying might be predisposed to psychological or emotional orientations towards bullying. Other students may not accept the fact that they were targets of bullying and may not report victimization because of embarrassment. Some students may not trust that their identity will be protected, and choose not to reveal information about being victimized for fear of being punished or bullied. Future research should utilize qualitative methods (e.g., interviews or focus groups) that would provide greater depth regarding our understanding of bullying issues. In addition, analyzing the bullying and victimization process from a cross-cultural perspective would highlight issues in diverse schools, communities, and organizations that could be addressed in anti-bullying programs. Moreover, due to rapidly developing technology, bullies now target victims using cell phones and social media (e.g., Facebook, Twitter). This new area of bullying was recognized in the literature as “cyberbullying,” and included text bullying (e.g., text messages, e-mails) and visual bullying (e.g., sending offensive videos or images). Wajngurt (2018) reports cyberbullying is becoming an increasing issue in higher education, and recommends college and university administrators develop policies and guidelines to address this situation on campus and at home. Consequently, future research should focus on analyzing cyberbullying and its effects on the physical health of the victims.
Bullying is an extremely serious issue in our world today. Accordingly, it has become an important area to study in the field of communication in order to better understand this destructive phenomenon. The National Communication Association (NCA, 2018) has given special attention to this social problem by initiating the NCA Anti-Bullying Project to develop an overall greater awareness and sensitivity to bullying that occurs on a daily basis (National Communication Association, 2018). This campaign highlights issues related to school and workplace bullying, social aggression, harassment, stalking, and role of bystanders in the bullying process. Multiple resources are provided in an attempt to ensure easy access of data and current research, as well as exchanging ideas about the prevention of bullying. The NCA Anti-bullying Resource Bank includes pedagogical resources, conference papers, and workshops addressing topics such as: Integrating Classroom Bullying into Instructional Practice, Awareness of Cyberbullying, and Strategies for Empowering Bystanders.

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About Authors
Elena V. Chudnovskaya, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Communication Studies
Western Illinois University
Macob, IL 61455
(309) 298-2370

Diane M. Millette, Ed.D.
Associate Professor of Communication Studies
University of Miami
Coral Gables, FL 33146
(305) 284-2340

Michael J. Beatty, Ph.D.
Professor of Communication Studies
University of Miami
Coral Gables, FL 33146
(305) 284-3769

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Bullying: College Students’ Views and Experiences

Martha Mendez-Baldwin

Manhattan College

Bullying: College Students’ Views and Experiences


The primary focus of this study was to examine college students’ views about bullying and to learn about their previous experiences with bullying.  Participants for this study consisted of 108 undergraduate students at Manhattan College. They complete a survey assessing general attitudes and experiences with bullying and responses to a hypothetical bullying scenario.  Participants who reported being bullying in school completed an additional 10 questions assessing their experience. The results demonstrate that college students were impacted by bullying during their middle and high school years with a fairly large percentage reporting that the early experience of bullying still affects them today.  The majority of college students believe that the prevalence of bullying has increased and also believe it is taken more seriously by parents today. Lastly, participants would help a bullying victim with effective strategies.

Keywords: bullying, college students, views, experiences, implications

Bullying: College Students’ Views and Experiences

Bullying is an issue of great concern for today’s youth, parents, and educators. According to the National Center for Education Statistics and Bureau of Justice Statistics (2011) between 1 in 4 and 1 in 3 U.S. students say they have been bullied at school.  While there is growing awareness of bullying, it still remains a prevalent and serious problem in today’s schools. Bullying affects all youth, including those who are bullied, those who bully others, and those who witness bullying. Some effects may last into adulthood.

Adams & Lawrence (2011) examined whether those bullied in schools continued to show the effects of being bullied after they enrolled in an institution of higher education.   Participants included 269 undergraduate students at a Midwestern state college. Participants completed a 20 item self-report questionnaire that contained questions about their experiences with bullying in junior high school, high school and college.  Adams & Lawrence’s study suggests that students who are bullied in high school and/or junior high school continue to be victimized. Participants reported being called names (verbal bullying) being excluded from class activities (relational bullying) and being physically abused (physical bullying) in college. In addition, those who had had been bullied in junior high or high school reported feelings of continued loneliness and isolation.  They also reported that they do not know how to fight back when individuals say hurtful things to them. These findings as well as the findings from their previous studies (2006; 2008) support the belief that the effects of bullying are long lasting.

A study conducted by Copeland, Wolke, Angold & Costello, (2013) suggests that bullies as well as the victims of bullying are at risk for psychiatric problems in childhood that persist into adulthood.  For this study, a sample of 1420 participants from 11 counties in Western North Carolina were categorized as either a bully, a victim, both a bully and a victim, or not exposed to bullying at all. The participants were assessed four times between the ages of 9 and 16 and three times during young adulthood (ages 19 through 26) for the following psychiatric conditions: depression, anxiety, antisocial personality disorder, substance use disorders, and suicidality (including recurrent thoughts of death, suicidal ideation, or a suicide attempt).  Victims were 4.3 times more likely to develop an anxiety disorder during adulthood. Bullies who were also victims were 14.5 times more likely to develop a panic disorder and 4.8 times more likely to develop depression. Bullies who were not victims were 4.1 times more likely to develop antisocial personality disorder.

Despite studies that demonstrate the impact of bullying, some myths about bullying still exists.  One myth about bullying is that “bullying is not serious; it’s just kids being kids”. Another is that “bullying is a normal part of childhood”.  ( More empirical evidence is needed in order to dispel such myths.

It is imperative that all children, parents, educators, and coaches understand that these myths are false. The purpose of this study was to learn about college students’ experiences with bullying in order to understand the long term impact of prior experiences with bullying on college students and dispel the myths about bullying not being serious.   The study also examined college students’ attitudes and perceptions regarding the prevalence, causes, and impact of bullying today. Lastly, the study used hypothetical vignette to determine which strategy the participants would use to help a younger sibling who was being bullied. Additionally, it was the researcher’s hope that the findings from this study would enable educators preparing college students who aspire to work with youth in the future to be better prepared to handle issues of bullying.



Participants for this study consisted of 108 undergraduate students at Manhattan College. Participants were recruited from undergraduate Psychology courses; participation was voluntary.  The participants ranged in age from 18-30 years. The mean age of the participants was 19.72 years (SD= 1.54). 35.2% of participants were male and 64.8 % were female. Participants represented 22 different majors with the most common being Psychology (25%), Education (19.4%), and Engineering majors (11.1%).  The ethnic background of the participants was 65.7 % Caucasian, 16.7 % Hispanic, 4.6 % African-American and 13% Other.


Participants completed a consent form as well as a 31 item survey, created by the researcher for the purposes of this study.   The survey contained three sections. Section A contained 20 statements assessing general attitudes and experiences with bullying. Sample questions in Section A included: “social media and the internet have made bullying more prevalent today” and “adults take bullying more seriously today”.  Section B contained an open ended question posing a hypothetical scenario in which a younger sibling is being bullied; participants were asked how they would handle the situation and what advice they would give in that situation. Section C was solely for participants who personally experienced bullying during elementary or high school.  It included 10 statements assessing their experiences. Sample questions in Section C included: “I had the support of an adult when I was bullied” and “I think I was bullied because I different”. Sections A and C utilized a 4 point Likert scale in which participants rated the extent to which they agree or disagree (1= strongly disagree, 4= strongly agree) with the statements presented.


IRB approval was obtained for this study. Prior to completion of the survey, all participants signed a consent form. Participants completed the survey at the beginning of their class.  Participants took about 15 minutes to complete the survey. Upon completion of the surveys, participants were given debriefing forms. Participants were encouraged to visit the Counseling Center at the college if they experienced any emotional upset as a result of completing the bullying survey.


Experiences with Bullying:

Participants’ experiences with bullying were assessed by the survey.  Results indicate that 62.9% of the participants experienced bullying during middle or high school and 93% knew someone who had been bullied.  A little more than half of the participants (51.50 %) reported having the support of an adult at the time they were bullied and 54.41% believe that they were bullied because they were different.  Results also indicate that 67.60 % either agree or strongly agree that the experience of being bullied negatively affected, with 30.9 % reporting that their school performance was negatively impacted because of bullying. Furthermore, 39.70 % reported that the experience of being bullied still affects them today.  

Attitudes about Bullying Today:

Participants’ attitudes about bullying today were assessed by the survey.  65% agree or strongly agree that bullying is more prevalent today and 100% of the participants believe that social media and the internet have made bullying more prevalent today and.  In addition, 73.1% believe that adults take bullying more seriously today.


Hypothetical Vignette:

The responses to the hypothetical vignette were coded to determine which strategy the participants would use to help a younger sibling who was being bullied.  The three most frequently reported strategies were talk to the child (68.5%), report the bullying to the teacher/school (50.9%), and tell the child’s parent (28.7%).  The least frequently reported strategies were: tell the child to fight the bully (2.7%), teach the child to fight (3.7%) and older sibling will confront the bully (3.7%)


The results demonstrate that the majority of college students surveyed were impacted by bullying during their middle and high school years and that almost 100% of them knew someone who was bullied.  This demonstrates that bullying was prevalent during their earlier educational experiences. Furthermore, the results indicate that a large number of participants believe that they were bullied because they were different.  This is an important finding with implications for parents and teachers. Parents and teachers should make an effort to promote sensitivity, tolerance, and acceptance of differences among others. If youth learn to embrace the differences in other people, it may contribute to decreasing the prevalence of bullying.

Most of the participants who experienced bullying believe that being bullied impacted them negatively and some reported that the experience of being bullied had a negative effect on their academic performance.  These findings provide important information that can be used by parents and teachers to help students who are victims of bullying. The findings confirm those of a 2013 study conducted by Copeland, Wolke, Angold & Costello which found that bullies as well as the victims of bullying are at risk for psychiatric problems in childhood.    

Additionally, almost half of the participants reported that being bullied in middle or high school still affects them today confirming the findings of a study by Adams & Lawrence (2011) which demonstrated that that the effects of bullying are long lasting.   The current study not only demonstrates the long term effects of bullying but also contributes to the empirical evidence that can be used to help dispel the myths that bullying is not serious and that it is a normal part of childhood. Bullying is indeed serious; so serious that a child who is bullied during middle or high school may still be affected by it during young adulthood.

Another important finding from this study is that the majority of participants believe that bullying is more prevalent today.  In addition, they believe that the internet and social media are major contributors to the increased prevalence. This is essential information for parents.  Parents must be aware and well informed about bullying so that they can help their children who may be affected by bullying as either bullies, victims or witnesses.  Parents should also exercise caution when allowing their children to use the internet and social media. Parents should teach their children cyber-safety and cyber-responsibility before allowing their children to access the internet and social media, especially unsupervised.   In addition, teachers must be well prepared and vigilant in their classrooms so they can identify cases of bullying and provide proper intervention.

The responses to the hypothetical vignettes demonstrate that the participants would help a bullying victim with effective strategies.  This is an encouraging finding since the vast majority of the participants consisted of Psychology and Education majors who may be working with youth in the future.  When adults respond quickly, consistently, and effectively to bullying behavior they send the message that it is not acceptable. In addition, if children are confident that the adults in their lives can effectively help, they may be more likely to tell an adult when they experience or see bullying.   According to, effective response to bullying may help stop bullying behavior over time.

The findings of this study contribute to a deeper understanding of bullying.   Nonetheless, more research is needed to address the issue of bullying which has become quite prevalent today.  The findings of this study are limited in that the sample size was not very large. Furthermore, the participants consisted of more females than males.  The same findings may not exist among male college students. Furthermore, the study did not examine in detail the specific ways that the participants believe bullying still affects them today.  Future research should address these limitations.



Adams, F.D. and Lawrence, G.J. (2011) Bullying victims: The effects last into college.

American Secondary Education, 40, 4-13.

Adams, F. D., Lawrence, G. J., & Schenck, S. (2008, Spring). A survey on bullying: Some

reflections on the findings. NASCD News & Notes, 8, 1-7.

Copeland, W. E., Wolke, D., Angold, A., & Costello, E. J. (2013). Adult psychiatric and suicide

outcomes of bullying and being bullied by peers in childhood and adolescence. JAMA

Psychiatry,70(4), 419–426.

Lawrence, G. J., & Adams, F. D. (2006, Fall). For every bully there is a victim. American

Secondary Education, 35(1), 66-71.

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Battling the Bullies: A Text Analysis of Student Interventions at University

Thomas Mueller

McKenzi Wallin

Appalachian State University

 Battling the Bullies: A Text Analysis of Student Interventions at University


An unfortunate, yet prevalent peril at University is the role of peer association and bullying. Research indicates that often, bullying occurs within a social context (O’Connell, Pepler, & Craig, 1999). This study used linguistic inquiry and word count (LIWC) text analysis to explore university students’ perception of bullying intervention through essay writing. Student subjects lived in the same residence learning community (RLC) and were enrolled in the same first year seminar (FYS). It was hypothesized problem solving and bullying resolution would significantly differ before and after the course was completed. Pretest, students exhibited traits identified in the variables “Clout” and “Tone.” In posttest, students exhibited dominant traits “Authentic” and “Tone.” It is suggested social identity among student residents is a constant. Students initially intervened with bravado and confidence. Knowledge gained throughout the FYS course, and within the RLC, led to increased strategic thinking, then transparency, in better understanding the core dysfunction in the bullying persona.

Keywords: Text analysis, Residence Learning Community, First Year Seminar, “Luke,” LIWC, student leadership, linguistic inquiry and word count.


An unfortunate, yet prevalent peril at University is the role of peer association and bullying. Research indicates that often, bullying occurs within a social context (O’Connell et al., 1999). As the reach of social interaction increases, there is potential for a systematic process that leads to bullying episodes. The university setting has become endangered and for many students, deemed “unsafe” in both emotional and physical terms. It has become imperative for university administrators and counselors to better understand the dynamics of bullying and the social protocol that Drives it.

The U.S. Department of Education and the Centers for Disease Control released a research based definition of bullying. It summarized “bullying is any unwanted aggressive behavior(s) by another youth or group of youths who are not siblings or current dating partners that involves an observed or perceived power imbalance and is repeated multiple times or is highly likely to be repeated. Bullying may inflict harm or distress on the targeted youth including physical, psychological, social, or educational harm (Gladden, Vivolo-Cantor, Hamburger, & Lumpkin, 2014).”

Farrington (1993) identified bullying as an act between perpetrators and recipients, one which is Driven by a power differential and imposed negative actions. Bullying may be verbal or physical, in some instances repeated over time. Craig (1998) supported that posit through research that indicates male bullying is predominantly physical at the 5th grade level, but transitions to verbal aggression by the 8th grade. For female respondents, it was documented differences in aggression did not occur until the latter years. When there is peer association, bullying can assume an indirect form. Bullying can include acts of exclusion for targeted individuals, or social framing that includes perpetuating rumors or propagating gossip (Salmivalli, Lagerspetz, Björkqvist, Österman, & Kaukiainen, 1998).

Although it is documented bullying occurs within many social settings, it is difficult to control (Kyriacou, Mylonakou-Keke, & Stephens, 2016). Among students, bullying is a major problem in schools, yet not well managed by administration officials. It is a complex issue. The study relates that although there is consensus bullying is prevalent, there are alternative views on how to best manage and alleviate this deviant behavior.

Garland, Policastro, Richards, and Miller (2017) stated that while most students are proactive in their defense against bullying, there was a faction that employed victim blaming. This group consisted of males, heterosexuals, and a grade school and high school history of bullying. Students who used illegal drugs or frequent alcohol use were also prone to minimize bullying. Bullying is an issue without boundaries, where counseling and courses specific to the topic are now being developed to support abused students (Webber, 2017).

Now, in the digital age, cyber-bullying has become a frequent form of libelous and slanderous attack. In a study with 226 Greek students, almost one third indicated a bullying assault each month. Male students indicated a greater level of bully events, related to females in the study (Kokkinos, Baltzidis, & Xynogala, 2016).

If bullies exist within educational environments, who are the “bully stoppers?” Who are the protectors who bring interventions to disengage the perpetrators from their actions? In a university setting, future leaders have been developed through First Year Seminars (FYS), which are known as foundational in students’ successful college experience (Gardner, 1986). These specific academic curriculums are most commonly part of general education requirements and tend to be interdisciplinary. FYS focus on honing academic skills such as critical thinking and expository writing (Barefoot & Fidler, 1992). They focus on a variety of topics, or can be associated in content for a specified discipline or profession.  Some institutions require a basic study skills FYS, which is offered to prepare students for the rigors they will face throughout their college careers. Topics tend to include grammar, how to take notes, efficient text reading, and proper research techniques (Barefoot & Fidler, 1992). Common learning outcomes for FYS courses include identity within a peer group, student and faculty bonding within the seminar course, and education on specific skills associated with success in college (Murphy, 1989).

First Year Seminars increase meaningful connections with faculty and staff, prompt higher engagement with campus services, increase involvement in activities, and lead to greater satisfaction (Barefoot, Warnock, Dickinson, Richardson, & Roberts, 1998). Prompting cognitive process regarding the construct of bullying can build future leaders who can campaign against bullies and break the recurrent bullying process. Students in this study were housed in a Residential Learning Community (RLC) associated with the course. RLC’s house a predominant population of first year students, brought together through either academic or lifestyle associations (Kuh & Vesper, 1997). Advantages to students in RLC communities include planned programming, academic themes, and focus on student-specific needs. Research indicates students who are housed in residential communities are exposed to productive educational experiences. In many cases, RLC students track through university with a notably higher GPA. Pike (1999) concluded involvement, interaction, integration and intellectual development were significantly higher (over a control group) for students housed in residential communities.

        An emerging advantage to the RLC lifestyle is a diverse community (Aber et al., 2010). Engaging others from diverse ethnic backgrounds has become an enriching experience within these dedicated housing communities. Students and faculty within RLCs believed critically analyzing and addressing racial inequality would extend beyond residence life and graduation. Ellett and Schmidt (2011) found that faculty identified the need for equality and sustained interactions in community building. Dialog that holds a meaningful context, coupled with shared experiences, was part of successful relationships. This move towards social justice may be related to a sense of identity within the RLC (Spanierman et al., 2013).

This study examines bullying intervention, as perceived by university students enrolled in a First Year Seminar (FYS) and residing in a RLC. Students were prompted to provide a problem-solving response to a specific bullying scenario at the beginning of the course (pretest) and once again as the course concluded (posttest). Each essay was converted into quantifiable data using Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count (LIWC) software.

Based on our knowledge, LIWC has not been applied to the construct of bullying. Published academic literature on bullying is sometimes quantitative, conducted through surveys and data collection. Other published studies are qualitative in nature, using interviews or focus groups to discern general themes. This study presents a “hybrid” that collected qualitative input to capture expression, then transitioned to quantitative analysis through LIWC. Statistical testing was used to identify the motivators of bully-stopping, testing for dissimilarities as university Freshman mature through their first semester.

It was important to consider the nature of leadership related to bullying resolution, as well as characteristics exhibited by which those with leadership qualities. Scholars have defined leadership as the ability to impart interactive influence, within a set context, where individuals accept someone as leader, to reach common goals (Silva, 2016). Specific to this study, Kouzes and Posner (1993) defined student leaders as those who challenge the current process; empower others to act; set an example by modeling behaviors; develop a shared vision; and support the affective response in others through encouraging psychological well-being as part of the process.

History and relevance of LIWC

LIWC (referred to as “Luke”) was developed in the mid 1980’s, originally intended as a simple word search and categorizing software. It has steadily evolved over decades of psychological research and technological advancement, and now serves as a fluid and ever-changing tool used for the reliable prediction of linguistic inquiry (Tausczik & Pennebaker, 2010). The concept of linguistic inquiry as an insight as to one’s beliefs, fears, thinking patterns, social relationships and personalities have long been established.  Therefore, LIWC serves as a modern technological platform for which to efficiently analyze a person’s psychological or behavioral status: priorities, intentions, and thoughts, degree, valence, and expression of emotion, status of social relationships, status, dominance, and social hierarchy, social coordination and group processes, honesty and deception, thinking styles, and individual differences (Pennebaker, Boyd, Jordan, & Blackburn, 2015). “Luke” tabulates frequency of word use and word associations, then categorizes responses into psychological and social variables. Prior studies have documented the importance of using LIWC to assess affective outcomes and emotion (Kahn, Tobin, Massey, & Anderson, 2007).

Students in a university setting have been featured in several prominent studies. Research found that testing for students who wrote about thoughts and feelings, use of positive emotion words and words associated with the development of insight were associated with an improvement in physical health (Kahn et al., 2007). Another university study found that those who wrote about deeply personal topics were subsequently healthier (both physically and psychologically) than those writing about controlled topics (Pennebaker, 1993).

LIWC has two central features, which by working together produce a process for which to sort and analyze text files. Processing, the first feature, allows LIWC to open text files and sort them word by word. The second process is the program’s “dictionaries.” Each word in a text file is grouped into a type of word based on the program’s pretest-established dictionaries. Each of the program’s 80 dictionaries are collections of words that define a category and include such groupings as impersonal pronouns, auxiliary verbs, past tense verbs, positive emotions, and negative emotions (Tausczik & Pennebaker, 2010). While some of the categories are straightforward language dimensions (such as articles and pronouns), the subjective categories (such as positive and negative emotion) requires the input of human judges.  A three-step process was established to judge which subjective words fall into which category. Over the years, some word categories and dictionaries have been deleted while others have been added. Overall, the program evolves and changes to provide an accurate and modern reflection of the role it serves within linguistic inquiry research.

LIWC calculates two categories of variables. Most variables are assessed by the proportion of the whole, based on frequency for which those words are presented in the essay. As an example, LIWC might discover that 3.74% of all the words in a poem were impersonal pronouns, while 2.8% of the words were negative emotions. This is the “transparent” measure, set to a percent-of-the-whole 0-100% scale. Four “summary language variables” are scored on a 0-100 standardized scale measure. They are analytical thinking, clout, authenticity, and emotional tone. These measures are derived from a compilation of research from previously published findings in large comparison files (Pennebaker et al., 2015).

The results from LIWC’s capabilities have been numerous and widespread (Newman, Pennebaker, Berry, & Richards, 2003). Overall, these outcomes have established a strong foundation for exploring health, psychological, and clinical impact through LIWC software. The ever-evolving nature of LIWC and the outcomes it measures are the foundation of an ever growing and influential field of research.


The research study was approved by the university Institutional Review Board (IRB). Student participants submitted demographic information including gender, age and ethnicity. Two sections of First Year Seminar classes were included in the study, 59% were female and 41% were male. An almost equal proportion of students originated from urban (49%) and rural (51%) settings. Most were 18 years of age (84%) while 14% were 19 or 20 years of age. The sample set was predominantly Non-Hispanic White or Euro-American (84%). Five percent were Black, Afro-Caribbean or African American. Three percent were Latino or Hispanic American. Three percent reported East Asian or Asian American.

        Most students (57%) stated “family funds my university expenses.” Another faction stated that finances were self-funded, with family help (24%). Eight percent were financed through scholarships, while 11% used a combination of financial aid, scholarships and family. GPAs among the test group were high. Forty one percent held a 3.5-4.0 GPA. The largest proportion stated they came to university with above 4.0 (54%). Some of the Freshman students (32%) carried 1-10 advanced credits from high school to university, while 16% carried in 11-20 credits. Half (50%) did not bring advanced high school credits to university.

        Psychologically, the group paired almost even with 51% identifying as introverted and 49% identifying as extroverted. Most (62%) viewed themselves as leaders, while 38% would choose to follow within a group setting. Approximately half (49%) invest one to four hours a week in out of classroom university sponsored activities.

Participants were presented with a complex bullying storyline that incorporated group dynamics; students exhibiting restricted physical capabilities; and those with restricted ability being marginalized and mocked by an external group. The following was posited in the form of an essay question assignment as an introduction to the FYS. The same essay question was presented as a concluding assignment in the course:

You are at a recreational sporting event with a group for the (redacted) RLC. A hiking event is included and several students in your group are taking the hike at a slower pace and are back from the lead group. Another group is also on the hike. They begin to ridicule the slower hikers, telling them they aren’t athletic enough, that the slower hikers should have stayed home. What would you say to the slower hikers from your group? What would you say to the external group that is ridiculing your slow hikers? How did you make decisions on what to say and do? How would you take a leadership role in this situation?

Essay responses were exported from a university learning management system into data management software, then imported into LIWC to achieve text conversion to variable responses. Analysis for this study focused on Pennemaker’s (2015) summary language variables Analytic, Clout, Authentic and Tone. These psychological and social composite variables were relatable to leadership qualities. Summary language variables were examined for mean score comparison pretest FYS, posttest FYS and related to LIWC composite average scores. Essays indicating the highest score for each summary variable, pretest and posttest, were examined for indicative narratives.

The composite variable “Drive” was incorporated as a dependent variable. Drive captures the dimension of group affiliation; levels of achievement; perception of power; and levels of reward based on actions. Data sets for pre and post essay narrative were tested for multiple regression, using the summary variables as independent, and the Drive variable as dependent. Correlations among the five variables were tested pre and post for significant associations.

Though descriptive variables are presented to define the respondent audience, the N of the subjects do not allow for statistically robust testing related to Analysis of Variance (ANOVA) measures.


A mean score comparison between pretest and posttest FYS essays was developed. The developers of LIWC provide a benchmark mean score, compiled from their national and international testing dictionaries. Analytic, Clout and Tone variables saw a decrease in mean score, from pretest to posttest. The variable Authentic indicated a sharp increase, from pretest to posttest (Figure 1).

Excerpts for each variable were compiled, to illustrate narratives representative of summary variables Analytic, Clout, Authentic and Tone (Table 1).

Correlation testing in pretest essay data presented a strong negative correlation between Authentic and Clout (r = -.65, p <.001) and a strong positive correlation between Drive and Tone (r = .69, p <.001). In posttest essay data Authentic and Clout was the only associated pair, holding a negative relationship (r = -.36, p = .02).

LIWC summary variables, with other variables selected for their leadership behavior outcomes, were tested in a network analysis. Network analysis determined the linear association of variables within pretest FYS essays (Figure 2) and posttest FYS essays (Figure 3).

Multiple regression analysis was performed to test if personality traits Analytic, Clout, Authentic and Tone significantly predicted the variable Drive. The results of the pretest essays indicated Tone was the unique significant predictor of Drive (R2 = .65, F (4,32)=14.88, p<.001). The regression for the posttest essays was not significant.


This study quantified perception of bullying and intended intervention tactics for Freshman university students, with a First Year Seminar serving as the treatment/intervention between pretest and posttest text analysis. Prior to the FYS experience, students addressed the bullying scenario with pretest dominant Clout and Tone. High Clout measures indicate the author holds a perspective of high expertise and confidence. High Tone indicates an approach framed through a positive, upbeat point of view. It should be noted student responses indicate a much higher mean response than is represented in the standard mean provided by LIWC across its cumulative text analysis.

Following one semester in FYS and its related Residence Learning Community, students indicated a slight drop in their Analytic approach and maintained a positive Tone. However, there was a drastic reduction in perception of lout – shifting to a tentative, humble and possibly anxious demeanor, which was more representative of the LIWC standardized mean for Clout. Students transitioned from Clout, to Authentic in resolution style. This indicates students believed themselves to be honest, personal and open in their approach to alleviating the bullying scenario. This partially supports the (Kouzes & Posner, 1993) study, in which student leaders were defined as having compassion for the emotional response in others, promoting psychological wellbeing. A transparent sense of self invites the affective response in others.

“We must be stronger…through reproof of inappropriate actions and encouragement of appropriate actions of members in our group,” wrote the respondent most highly ranked for Clout in the pretest. This shifts in perception in the posttest, note the position taken by the high ranked Clout respondent: “If I want people to respect me as a leader, I have to respect them…No person is of any greater value than another.  Everyone is equal and accomplish greater things when they work together….to help everyone fulfill their goals and keep a positive mindset until the end.”

Association of variables through network analysis provides a deeper explanation of leadership narrative. Drives – defined as an overarching dimension that captures needs and motives – became the variable “hub” in pretest essays, anchored by Clout, Achievement and Affiliation. The network also reveals that Affiliation holds a negative relationship with Power. The Drive of students in this pretest had an association to Power, but in a lesser extent. After mediation through FYS, students again set Drives as the foundational variable, this time supported by Analytic, Affiliation and Focus Present. What proves interesting is that Analytic, Affiliation and Focus Present hold negative associations, mediated through the variable Power.

This model supports the definition of bullying as aggressive behavior that is prompted by a perceived power imbalance (Gladden et al., 2014). Students who held a high-power view in pre testing, have learned to reidentify without power traits in posttests. When having Drive(s) one should stay in the present and be Analytical in assessment; when the issue is Power, focus on present is not as relevant.

“Making these decisions (to support the bullied group) extend from my previous experience of stepping up and being a leader…taking a stand…making my presence known in a positive manner,” stated the author of the highest-ranking posttest Analytic response. Here, the residence life community might have presented a positive treatment. This supports the study by (Pike, 1999), where intellectual development was significantly higher for students housed in residential communities.

This study indicates that students in the pretest may have been less Driven by knowledge, but rather by passion. Clout and Achieve were associated with achieving Drive, as noted in the following pretest excerpts:

“The power comes from the comparison of the bully to the bullied, which is often shallow and relative.”

“…do it because it’s never right to watch someone get bullied and realize you had the power and ability to stop them.”

“(We have) the power and should stand up for the ones getting bullied.”

A more thoughtful, reflective student formed a solution in posttest. Still anchored by Drive, processing was now filtered through an analytical approach, staying in the moment to ascertain needed information for the best decisions as demonstrated in the following posttest excerpts:

“I do not appreciate conflict between people for silly reasons such as bullying.”

“It is the actions that occur after the harmful words that truly determine who is the real winner. Bullies are lonely people who are desperately seeking for attention at any cost.”

“It is clear the third group of the hikers has taken the former approach to athleticism. Typically, bullies are the ones who are self-conscious and are unable to have high levels of self-esteem.”

“At first I struggled with staying diplomatic and I gave the bullies the reactions they wanted. I eventually learned to stay calm and collected and learned that saying nothing at all was better.”

Through this process, students became less assertive and more transparent in attaining positive outcomes. As the students began and concluded the semester, affiliation remained a constant. Resident Learning Communities attract students with similar interests and passions. Social identity within the group was essential in alleviating bullying brought by external parties, against their affiliated group.


Since LIWC is a rather new science in social and psychological research, there is a broad interpretation in conceptual meaning. Dictionaries and algorithms designed in LIWC were developed over a broad range of topics and writings (Humphreys & Wang, 2017). Some of the interpretations might be actionable, while other associations might prove spurious in nature. Text analysis now provides substantial data for statistical computing. However, analysis should be part of a methodology that references prior study and theories. The rigor of quantitative testing remains in need of the proper operationalization and framing of constructs. Repeated testing with other students from other population groups is required before results can be generalized across a larger population.


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Figure 1. Mean scores psychological and social summary variables




Table 1. Highest rank excerpts LIWC psychological and social summary variables (0 to 100 point scale)



Analytic (81.13)

Analytic (77.45)

“…leadership-based response to this observation of ridicule, the student must show traits and responses to both the people being ridiculed and those who are ridiculing them, showing a response that displays more than just leadership, but also one of consideration of a possible compromise…while keeping the integrity of a group rather than segregating them based off speed, which would be the easiest route, but not the one that showed the most leadership skills.”

“To the slower hikers in my group, they are doing nothing wrong. It does not matter how you start, it is how you finish. As long as my peers finish, I have no issue with the pace they take. I will be there for each step of the way…Making these decisions extend from my previous experience of stepping up and being a leader…to just taking a stand, I have always found myself making a presence known in a positive manner.”

Clout (92.09)

Clout (76.86)

“One of the most difficult roles of a great leader is to hold both ourselves and others accountable for our actions. We will be much stronger teams through both reproof of inappropriate actions and encouragement of appropriate actions of members of our group. ‘Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me’ is a lie. Those words strike us at our very core. From this core, comes our motivation and valuation of our self-worth.

“If I want people to respect me as a leader, I have to respect them…I must respect them the way I want to be respected by them.  No person is of any greater value than another. Everyone is equal and accomplish greater things when they work together….to help everyone fulfill their goals and keep a positive mindset until the end.”

Authentic (89.69)

Authentic (84.12)

“Everyone develops their skills at different paces, some faster than others, which is perfectly normal.  I would tell them to think back to when they were slower beginner hikers and how they felt in those shoes and how they would feel if someone was talking to them how they were talking to our slower hikers.  I would make it pretty clear…to leave our hikers alone.  If they were only out on the trail to bother other people…they have no business being out here.”

“Before starting college, I was often afraid of speaking my mind, especially if that involved sticking up to others…I feel more confident in my abilities to stand up to those who try and put myself or others down. My first step of action…would be to comfort the slower hikers…I would make sure they feel comfortable enough to continue on with the hike and support them the rest of the way up with words of encouragement.”

Tone (98.01)

Tone (86.11)

“I have found that the best way to bring others up to speed (no pun intended) is to encourage them. Encouragement is such a powerful tool to bring others up when they are down…. I would do my best to motivate everyone in the group from the fastest hikers to the slowest ones to encourage one another and love each other…I have found that leading takes a whole lot but you are blessed with a whole lot more through others.”

“I would encourage the slower group to continue at their pace and enjoy the hike. As a society we must be able to treat others with respect and identify with others around us on a deeper level. I would try to help both groups understand each other by surfacing details about why the slower group is going at the rate they are. Maybe they want to enjoy the views…By bringing something we all can agree on… it will be a lot easier to find common ground with the pace.”


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Cyberbullying & Substance Abuse

Cyberbullying & Substance Abuse – According to the Megan Meier Foundation—a foundation created by Tina Meier after her 13-year-old daughter, Megan, took her own life as a result of being cyberbullied—approximately 34 percent of all school-aged kids have endured cyberbullying at some point in their lives.

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An Interactive Bully Prevention Program: Using Story Time, Dolls & Pledges to Teach About Bullying

Martha Mendez-Baldwin

Manhattan College



The primary purpose of this study was to implement and assess a Bully Prevention Program for Kindergarten through grade 8 students.  The goal was to develop a program that was interactive and age appropriate for each grade. The program incorporated the reading of a story, an interactive bully-simulation activity that uses a paper doll, and an anti-bullying pledge.   Follow up interviews with the teachers indicate that the students engaged with and enjoyed the program. Furthermore, teachers rated the program as successful in reducing discipline issues involving bullying and teasing. The study also surveyed the middle school children at the school to learn more about the prevalence of bullying and attitudes and behaviors related to bullying.  Results show that the children are observing a significant amount of bullying in school and that less than half would feel comfortable telling their parents if they were being bullied. Results demonstrate the need for parents to be more active in talking to their children about bullying. Furthermore, more research attention should be focused on the development, implementation, and assessment of evidence-based interactive bully prevention programs.


An Interactive Bully Prevention Program:

Using Story Time, Dolls & Pledges to Teach About Bullying

     Bullying is an issue of great concern for today’s youth, parents, and educators.  A person is bullied when he or she is exposed, repeatedly to negative actions on the part of one or more other persons and he or she has difficulty defending himself or herself (Olweus, 1993).  The goal of bullying is to gain power over and dominate other individuals. There are four forms of bullying: physical (including hitting, kicking, spitting, pushing, stealing, and destruction of property), verbal (such as taunting, malicious teasing, name calling, and making threats),  psychological/relational (including spreading rumors, manipulating social relationships, exclusion from a peer group, extortion, and intimidation) and cyber-bullying ( using the Internet, cell phones, social media or other technology to spread rumors, intimidate, threaten or humiliate) (Cohn and Canter, 2003; National Resource Center for Safe Schools, 1999). An imbalance of power, whether real or imagined, is a key component of bullying. Bullies engage in hurtful behavior against those who cannot defend themselves because of size, strength, psychological resilience, physical or mental limitation, or social status (U.S. Department of Justice, 2004; Olweus, 1993).

     According to the Department of Education, 1 out of 3 students is bullied at school daily; 160,000 students are absent from school daily due to the fear of being bullied.  It is estimated that 13 million American children are teased, taunted and physically assaulted by their peers, making bullying the most common form of violence our nation’s youth experienced in 2012. Schools are no longer the safe haven that they used to be.

     School safety is a prerequisite for school success and bullying is quickly becoming an epidemic that interferes not only with school success but psychological and emotional well-being.   The World Health Organization’s Bullying Survey (Nansal et al., 2001), which assessed the bullying experiences of more than 15,000 youth in the public school system in the United States, indicates that 53% of boys and 37% of girls report having participated in bullying and 12% of the boys report having participated in bullying on a weekly basis.

     Bullying not only threatens a student’s sense of personal safety; bullying is related to academic difficulties.  Victims often have difficulty concentrating on their schoolwork, experience declines in academic performance, and have frequent absences from school.  Not surprisingly, they are at a higher risk for dropping out of school.

       Being bullied is also related to emotional and psychological distress.  Many victims of bullying experience loneliness and difficulty making friends. (Lumsden, 2002).  They often suffer humiliation, insecurity, and loss of self-esteem and may develop a fear of going to school, depression, and other mental health problems that can accompany them into adulthood (Shellard, 2002; Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, 2001).

      Bullies also experience negative consequences. They are often less popular when they get to high school, have few friends, and are more likely to engage in criminal activity. Bullying behavior has also been linked to other forms of antisocial behavior, such as vandalism, shoplifting, skipping and dropping out of school, fighting, relationship abuse, violent crimes, and drug and alcohol use (Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, 2001). A strong correlation has been found between bullying other students during school years and experiencing legal or criminal troubles as adults. Olweus (1993) found that 60 % of boys characterized as bullies in grades 6-9 had at least one criminal conviction by age 24, compared to 23 % of boys not characterized as bullies.

     Bullying also has an effect on bystanders. Those who witness bullying are more likely to exhibit increased depression, anxiety, anger, post-traumatic stress, alcohol use, and low grades (Shellard, 2002). Students who regularly witness bullying at school fear that the bully may target them next and they feel that teachers and other adults are either unable or unwilling to control bullies’ behavior (Shellard & Turner, 2004).

     Kim & Leventhal (2008) conducted a review of 37 studies that examined the relationship between bullying experiences and suicide.  This study clearly demonstrates that any bullying experience, whether as a victim, perpetrator, or bystander, increases the risk of suicidal ideations and/or behaviors in children and adolescents.   In September of 2010, New York State Legislation signed the Dignity for All Students Act into law (NY State Education Department, 2010) requiring schools to take a proactive stance against bullying, including implementing bully prevention curriculums.

      While bully prevention programs are necessary in school, it is important to understand which anti-bullying programs work and which are most effective for children of different ages.   Bully prevention efforts vary tremendously from school to school. Some bully prevention programs involve a onetime school assembly. This type of program may not engage all students therefore compromising the learning experience for those who do not engaged.  Other programs involve displaying posters against bullying without an accompanying program. In this case, one must question whether merely seeing posters about bullying will actually reduce bullying behavior. Zero-tolerance policies, which suspend or expel bullies, have not been shown to reduce bullying behavior.   Instead, according to a review by the American Psychological Association’s Zero Tolerance Task Force (2008) those policies may lead to higher rates of student misbehavior and are also associated with higher rates of student anxiety, alienation, and distrust of adults.

    According to the U.S. Department of Education (2011), only 8 % of anti-bullying programs implemented in U.S. schools are evidence-based.  The most extensively examined one is the Olweus Bully Prevention Program, a long-term, multi-level plan that addresses students, teachers, parents, and surrounding communities. Backed by several decades of research, its design is formatted for grades K–12 and has been implemented in many schools throughout the United States.  It is a very extensive program that involves students and teachers, incorporates weekly sessions with role playing, and promotes empathy and advocacy. While this program has been effective in some schools, it is a rather lengthy program that utilizes a large portion of classroom instruction time. As school teachers struggle to implement the newly added Common Core Curriculum, classroom teaching time is a valuable resource that educators might not relish giving up.

    The purpose of this study was to conduct and evaluate an evidence-based interactive Bully Prevention Program for Kindergarten through grade 8 students at two Catholic Schools in Westchester County, New York and to assess teachers’ level of satisfaction with the program.  This study examined the use of a short term program that consists of different components that are developmentally appropriate for different grades. The program incorporated the reading of a story, an interactive bully-simulation activity that uses a paper doll, and an anti-bullying pledge.  The program utilizes Vygotsky’s (1978) notion of constructivism by providing an interactive learning experience for children that is enjoyable but effective in teaching about the impact of bullying, how to handle situations involving bullying, and how to empathize with the bully, victim, and bystander.

     Mendez-Baldwin and Pugliese (2012) piloted the Bully Prevention Program with a similar group of Catholic School children in grades K-8.  The Pilot Bully Prevention Program utilized paper dolls and anti-bullying pledges. Teacher evaluations of the program were fairly positive but teachers felt that the paper doll activity that simulated bullying was more effective in grades 2-8.  They reported that the younger students did not engage with the activity and that most did not grasp the message or understand how the activity related to bullying. They believed it was too abstract for the children even though it involved a hands-on project.

     For this study, the component of the Bully Prevention Program for the younger students, grades Kindergarten to Grade 1,  was modified to include a reading of a book about bullying followed by a discussion and anti-bullying pledge. The primary goal of the study was to obtain preliminary empirical support for this interactive bully prevention program that uses different components that are age appropriate.   In addition, the researcher aimed to obtain information from the middle school students about their attitudes and behaviors related to bullying.



     The study included 403 participants; all were elementary school students from two Catholic schools in Westchester County, New York where the median household income is $75,000.  The majority of the participants (95.7%) were Caucasian, 2.3 % were Hispanic, the remaining were African American (1.2%) and other (.08%). The bully prevention program was given to students from kindergarten to 8th grade.  The program was conducted by the primary author, an applied developmental psychologist who has over 20 years working with children and adolescents, along with an advanced Psychology student who assisted the primary author.

      The middle school students at the two schools, 86 in total, completed the short 10 item survey.


A picture book, Chester the Raccoon and the Big Bad Bully by Audrey Penn was used in the program.  In this book, Chester the Raccoon, who is a story book character most young children are familiar with, encounters a bully.  With the help of his mother, Chester and his friends learn how to deal with the classroom bully. In addition, 14 paper dolls (7 girls and 7 boys) 24 inches in height, made of cardboard were used in the study.  The dolls were designed by the researcher to look like children ages 8-13 years old. The dolls were used for an interactive activity designed to teach children about the emotional harm caused by bullying. Lastly, pledge forms were also used in the program. Pledge forms allowed the students to either draw or write their pledge to end bullying.  Students in Kindergarten and Grade 1 were given an ” I’m a Buddy; Not a Bully!” drawing to color in place of a pledge form.

     A survey consisting of 10 Yes or No questions all relating to bullying within the school was used in the study.  The survey was created by the researcher and measured the prevalence of bullying and certain bully related behaviors.  Sample survey questions included “Have your parents ever asked you if you have been bullied?”, “Is there someone in your class that acts like a bully?” and “Would you tell a parent if you were being bullied?”.

Procedure/Description of the Program

     The Anti-bullying program was designed to teach children in Kindergarten through grade 8 about the harmful effects of bullying and how to prevent further acts of bullying within the school.  The program consisted of several different parts, each designed to meet the cognitive abilities of each group of children. The program was conducted in the student’s classrooms over a period of 4 days during the month of October 2014, Bullying Prevention Awareness Month.  Teachers and principals were present during each of the program sessions.

     The program for the youngest age group (the kindergarten class and grade 1) consisted of reading a book, Chester the Raccoon and the Big Bad Bully by Audrey Penn. In this book, Chester the Raccoon, who is a story book character most young children are familiar with, encounters a bully.  With the help of his mother, Chester and his friends learn how to deal with the classroom bully. The researcher read the story in traditional story time fashion, with children sitting in a circle on the floor.  After reading the story, the researcher and her assistant led a circle time discussion with the children. The topics covered during the discussion included: 1) the difference between the behavior of a bully and that of a friend; 2) how to deal with a bully at school in a nonviolent way; 3) understanding why someone may act like a bully; and 4) the importance of telling a trusted adult if you are being bullied or witness bullying. After the discussion, the children recited a short pledge about being a buddy not a bully, and then were given a picture of a person with a sticker on it which reads “I’m a Buddy, not a Bully!” to color.  The “I’m a Buddy, not a Bully” pictures were displayed in the classroom as a reminder to students about their anti-bullying pledge.

     The second component of the Anti-Bullying program was delivered to grades 2-5.  It involved completing an interactive Josephine/Joseph Doll activity and writing their own Anti-Bullying pledges. The Josephine/Joseph Doll activity was piloted in a previous study by the researcher using a similar sample of elementary and middle school children. The Josephine/Joseph Doll is a large paper doll that the students were instructed to say something mean to and then cut off a piece with a scissor; this was done to symbolize the harmful effects that bullying can have on a person. After all the children have said something mean, they passed around the doll again and said something nice while repairing the doll with multi-colored tape. This symbolized how after being bullied people are left with emotional scars and damage.   After the activity, the researchers led a discussion on bullying. The topics covered in the discussion included 1) what constitutes bullying behavior; 2) why someone may be behaving as a bully; 3) the effects of bullying; 4) the importance of telling a trusted adult; and 5) ways to deal with bullying in a nonviolent way. After the discussion, children wrote and recited their own anti-bullying pledge.

     The program for the middle school children (grades 6-8) was similar to the program for the 2nd-5th grade.  The children completed the same Josephine/Joseph Doll activity and wrote and recited their own pledges but the discussion for this age group included the following additional topics: 1) Internet safety and; 2) cyber-bullying in addition to the topics covered in the grades 2-5 program.

Middle School Survey

     The middle school students (grades 6-8) also completed an anonymous survey in order to measure the prevalence of bullying and other bully related activities.  The survey was completed at the end of the Anti-Bully Program. The principals of the two schools obtained consent from the parents allowing the children to complete the surveys.  The survey consists of 10 Yes or No questions all relating to bullying within the school and took about 10 minutes to complete. They were completed in the classroom on the same day as the program.

Teacher Follow-Up & Satisfaction

     The researcher conducted 2 short interviews with each of the classroom teachers and principals of the two schools.  Interviews were conducted in person by the primary researcher at the school. The first interview occurred 1 day after the program and focused on the teachers’ and administrators’ satisfaction with the program and their assessment of how engaged the students were.  They were also asked whether they believed the students enjoyed the program. The second interview was conducted 2 months after the program. Teachers were asked to provide feedback about the effectiveness of the program in reducing behavior and incidents related to bullying.


Teacher Satisfaction

    Follow-up interviews with the teachers and principals indicate a high level of satisfaction with the Bully Prevention Program at both schools.   100% of the teachers and administrators at both schools rated the program as highly informative and effective in reducing behavior and incidents related to bullying.  Furthermore 100% stated that the children had enjoyed the workshop and easily engaged in the program.

Middle School Survey

    Twenty-six (30.23 %) of the participants responded “No” to the question: Have your parents ever asked you if you have been bullied?”   Twenty-two (25.59%) of the participants indicated that they would not feel comfortable speaking to a parent if they were being bullied at school.  Forty-five (52.33%) of the children responded that they have been bullied and 31 (35.88%) indicated that they have said something mean or nasty about someone on social media.  Eighty- four participants (97.67%) said they felt sad for children who were bullied, and 85 (98.84%) of the participants are aware that children and teens have committed suicide due to issues related to bullying.


      The results demonstrate the need to continue bully prevention efforts.   About half of the students surveyed indicated that they have been bullied at school and more than 1/4 of the students admitted to having said something mean or nasty to someone on social media. Despite wide spread efforts by schools and other bully prevention campaigns, to raise awareness about bullying and bullying prevention, bullying is still occurring.  Bullying is quickly becoming one of the most serious issues facing schools today (Olweus, 1994).

     Bullying is related to emotional distress and even suicide.  Bully victims are between 2 to 9 times more likely to consider suicide than non-victims (Kim & Leventhal, 2008).  Kim & Leventhal (2008) provide a systematic review of 37 studies conducted on children and adolescents that examined the association between bullying experiences and suicide.   Despite methodological and other differences and limitations that were found in the 37 studies, the review clearly illuminated that any participation in bullying increases the risk of suicidal ideations and/or behaviors in youth.

     The current study also highlights the need for parents to communicate more with their children about bullying.   Less than half of the children indicated that their parents have asked them if they have ever been bullied at school and less than 30% said they would feel comfortable telling their parents if they had experienced bullying at school.  Parents must open the lines of communication with their children and this communication must include discussions about bullying. Children must feel comfortable talking to their parents about bullying experiences as the emotional stress caused by bullying is something that they will need their parents support and help to deal with.   Parents must be encouraged to directly ask their children about their experiences being bullied at school.

      Mendez-Baldwin, Cirillo, Ferrigno, & Argento’s  (2015) study of social media usage and cyber-bullying among teens revealed a significant association between being friends with your child on social media and their likelihood of talking to you about cyber- bullying experiences, demonstrating that parents are key factors in their teens’ experience and exposure to cyber-bullying.  Mendez-Baldwin, (2015) also yielded a correlation between parents who monitored their children’s activity during middle school and the students’ likelihood of telling an adult about cyber-bullying. Thus, as children transition through middle school to high school, parents should be encouraged to become involved in their children’s virtual world.

     The researcher recommends that schools include parents in their bully prevention efforts.  Unfortunately, there are still a large number of adults who believe that bullying is just a part of normal childhood and these parents may not realize the impact of bullying or prevalence of bullying among today’s youth.  Furthermore, since most parents are aware that schools are implementing bully prevention programs, they may not realize that they should continue these efforts at home as well. Schools can play a role in encouraging parents to speak to their children about bullying.  This is essential for addressing the spread of bullying and helping to make schools the safe zone that they should be.

     Further research should address the role of parents in bully prevention.  One suggestion might be to survey parents and examine their attitudes about bullying.  This should include an examination of their behaviors related to teaching and communicating with their children about bullying.  This may be a necessary first step in understanding how to help parents promote anti-bullying behavior and Internet safety in their children.

     Research efforts directed at examining the effectiveness of bully prevention programs are also warranted since must school districts are conducting bully prevention, but studies continue to demonstrate that bullying is still occurring. Bullying interferes with school success and is related to emotional, mental health, and legal problems that can accompany children into adulthood. Effective bully prevention is essential in order to secure a bright future for today’s youth.

     Furthermore, more evidence-based bully prevention programs are needed.  This study suggests that short term programs that are interactive and age appropriate may be effective.   Based on teacher reports, children easily engaged and enjoyed the short story, Josephine/Joseph doll that simulated bullying, and the pledge components of the program.   Furthermore, teachers reported fewer behavioral problems and incidents related to bullying. This study is limited because the program was only implemented at two Catholic Schools in Westchester County, NY. Another limitation is that the teacher follow-up period of 2 months was relatively short and does not address whether the initial benefits of the program were long lasting.  In addition, the program should be repeated and tested more rigorously using a randomized controlled trial design which Howard, Flora, & Griffin (1999) suggest, in their literature review of bully prevention programs, are lacking. Nonetheless, the current study does present some preliminary support for the utility of an interactive bully prevention program which involved the use of paper dolls to simulated bullying, story time, and pledges.



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