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Chronic bullying victimization across school transitions: The role of genetic and environmental influences

  • Lucy Bowes (a1), Barbara Maughan (a1), Harriet Ball (a1), Sania Shakoor (a1), Isabelle Ouellet-Morin (a1), Avshalom Caspi (a1) (a2), Terrie E. Moffitt (a1) (a2) and Louise Arseneault (a1)...

We investigated the antecedents and consequences of chronic victimization by bullies across a school transition using a genetically sensitive longitudinal design. Data were from the Environmental Risk Longitudinal Twin Study (E-Risk), an epidemiological cohort of 2,232 children. We used mothers' and children's reports of bullying victimization during primary school and early secondary school. Children who experienced frequent victimization at both time points were classed as “chronic victims” and were found to have an increased risk for mental health problems and academic difficulties compared to children who were bullied only in primary school, children bullied for the first time in secondary school, and never-bullied children. Biometric analyses revealed that stability in victimization over this period was influenced primarily by genetic and shared environmental factors. Regression analyses showed that children's early characteristics such as preexistent adjustment difficulties and IQ predicted chronic versus transitory victimization. Family risk factors for chronic victimization included socioeconomic disadvantage, low maternal warmth, and maltreatment. Our results suggest that bullying intervention programs should consider the role of the victims' behaviors and family background in increasing vulnerability to chronic victimization. Our study highlights the importance of widening antibullying interventions to include families to reduce the likelihood of children entering a pathway toward chronic victimization.

Corresponding author
Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Louise Arseneault, MRC Social, Genetic, and Developmental Psychiatry Centre, Institute of Psychiatry, London SE5 8AF, UK; E-mail:
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