PSYCHOPATHOLOGY OF BULLYING AND EMOTIONAL ABUSE AMONG SCHOOL CHILDREN

The study was carried out to investigate the psychological effects of bullying on victims of bullying acts using self report method. Negative Act Scale was designed and validated to assess experience of bullying among students. Also, Symptom Distress Checklist (SCL-90) was used to assess manifestations of emotional distress among the respondents. The study was anchored on Social-Information-Processing Theory. Participants for the study were obtained from both private and public schools in Lagos, including boarders and non-boarders aged between 12 and 19 with mean age of 11. It was hypothesized that bullying behaviour will be more prevalent among boys than girls in both private and public schools. Also, hypothesized was that bully victims were more likely to report more Psychopathologic tendencies. The result showed higher incidence of bullying among boys than girls. It also shows significant correlations between bullying and all the 10 symptoms of distress investigated. The implication of the study is that there is need for proper monitoring of relationships and activities that occur among secondary school students, to prevent lasting emotional damage that can result from bullying. Keywords: Bullying, Emotional abuse, Physical abuse, Psychopathology.






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Publication: Ife Psychologia
Author: Ayenibiowo, Kehinde O
Date published: September 1, 2011

Introduction

Bullying is a social phenomenon that transcends gender, age, and culture. While there are wide ranges in the definition of the term, bullying is essentially characterized by one or several individuals aggressing on a vulnerable peer, primarily to assert control or power. The victims of these behaviors are seen in practice - whether they disclose their plights or not (Rivers 8c Smith, 1994; Sansone & Sansone, 2008). It is common on school playgrounds, dormitories, hostels, in neighborhood, and in homes throughout Nigeria and around the world. It is a social and interpersonal problem that involves the repeated, intentional use of aggression against a less powerful other (Whitney 8c Smith, 1993; Hunter, Mora-Merchan 8c Ortega, 2004). Bullying occurs repeatedly over time and involves an ongoing pattern of harassment, intimidation and abuse. There is a pattern of repeated aggression involving a deliberate attempt to harm or disturb the victim, who experiences an actual or perceived imbalance of power (Olweus, 1993; Smith, 1997; Lyznicki et al, 2004).

Bullying among children encompasses a variety of negative acts carried out repeatedly over time. It involves a real or perceived imbalance of power, with the more powerful child or group attacking those who are less powerful (Olweus 8c Limber, 1999). Building on definitions of bullying in the school yard, we define bullying to occur when someone persistently, over a period of time, perceives himself to be at the receiving end of negative actions from one or several others, in a situation where the one at the receiving end has difficulties defending against these actions (Einarsen et al, 1994). The core dimension of bullying particularly among children is about exposures to repeat and enduring negative acts from colleagues (Einarsen, 2000; Limber 8c Nation, 2009). Bullying differs from isolated, transitory interpersonal conflicts in that it involves systematic, intentional, prolonged and repeated negative attacks aimed at a person by one or more people, often resulting in the victim feeling unable to cope (Mikkelsen 8c Einarsen, 2002). Chronically bullied children display symptoms similar to victims of domestic violence (Lyznicki et al, 2004). Bullying can take three different forms, physical aggression (e.g. hitting, kicking, spitting, , pushing, taking personal belongings, excessive monitoring with a view of launching an attack, etc.), verbal (e.g. taunting, malicious teasing, name calling, making threats, being shouted at or being humiliated invalid criticism, being sworn at, exclusion or social isolation, spreading rumours), and psychological (e.g. spreading rumours, manipulating social relationships, or engaging in social exclusion, being the target of practical jokes, extortion, or intimidation). Implicit in this definition is an imbalance in real or perceived power between the bully and victim. Bullying usually occurs at school (or when the child is traveling to or from school) (Lyznicki et al, 2004) andgenerally occurs between peers within the same school year (Smith, 1997). Bullying is believed to occur more often among boys, also boys tend to use physical and verbal bullying, while girls tend to use relational bullying, which is more subtle and difficult to detect (Lyznicki et al, 2004).

Hypothesis 1: bullying behaviour will be more prevalent among boys than girls in both private and public schools

Consequences of Bullying

As awareness of the problem has increased, there has been increased interest in the potential long-term effects of bullying. Authors have reported on a number of negative psychological and physical effects of school bullying including reduced self-esteem, poor physical health, decreased school attendance and performance and increased depression and anxiety (Leymann & Gustafsson, 1996; Smith, 1997; Lyznicki et al, 2004; Rivers, 2004; Tehrani, 2004). The risk for these negative outcomes is increased if the bullying is severe, prolonged and the victim lacks adequate social support (Leymann & Gustafsson, 1996; Rigby, 2003).

Studies of bullying suggest that there are short and long-term consequences for both the perpetrator and the victims of violence and bullying (Limber and Nation, 1998). Young people for example, who are chronic victims of bullying, experience more physical and psychological problems than their peers who are not harassed by others (Williams, Chambers, Logan, & Robinson, 1996; Limber ¿6 Nation, 2009), and such tend not to grow out of the role of victim. Studies also suggest that chronically victimized students may as adults be at increased risk of depression, poor self-esteem, and other mental health problems, including schizophrenia (Parker & Asher, 1987; Olweus, 1994; Rivers & Smith, 1994). Bullying by peers may also contribute to the development of eating disorders (i.e., anorexia and bulimia nervosa).

Psychological and psychosomatic disorders were encountered among most of the bullying victims (Einarsen & Raknes (1997). Also, Leymann (1990) found insomnia, nervousness, melancholy, indifference, lack of concentration and social phobias among bullying victims. Clinical observations show that those who experience bullying within organizations suffer from social discrimination, social disharmony, psychosomatic disorders, and depression; longing for help, nervousness, pressures, anxiety, and hopelessness to a greater extent than those who are not bullied (Parker & Asher, 1987; Rivers & Smith, 1994;. Mikkelsen & Einarsen, 2002). In addition to social difficulties, students and adolescents who are repetitively bullied may develop internalizing symptoms. Williams et al (1996) found that victims of bullying reported frequent worries, sadness, nervousness, and fearfulness. They also infer that frequent bullying was a predicting factor for anxiety disorders in early adulthood Evidence of statistical association between being bullied and development of eating pathology, multiple mental disorders (e.g., anxiety, depression) both in female and male victims has been reported (Salmivalli, Kaukiainen, & Lagerspetz 1996; Kochenderfer & Ladd, 1997; Roland, 2002).

Hypothesis 2: Victims of bullying experience more physical and psychological problems than their peers who are not harassed by others

Theoretical framework

Social-Information-Processing Theory

This theory recognizes that people come to social situations with a set of biologically determined capabilities and a database of past experiences (Schwartz, Dodge, Pettit, & Bates, 1997). They receive as input a set of social cues (such as a push in the back by a peer or a failing grade in a school subject). The person's behavioral response to the cues occurs as a function of a sequence of mental processes, beginning with encoding of cues through sensation and perception. The vastness of available cues requires selective attention to cues (such as attention to peers' laughter versus one's own physical pain).

Once the stimulus cues are represented, the person accesses one or more possible behavioral responses from memory. Rules of association in memory, as well as the person's response repertoire, guide this retrieval. For example, one person might follow the rule "when intentionally provoked, fight back"; whereas another person might follow the rule "when provoked, run away." Accessing a response is not the same as responding behaviorally, however, as in the case of a withheld impulse. The next step of processing is response evaluation and decision making, wherein the person (not necessarily consciously) evaluates the interpersonal, intrapersonal, instrumental, and moral consequences of accessed behavioral responses and decides on an optimal response. Clearly, evaluations that a behavior is relatively likely to lead to positive consequences are predictive of that behavioral tendency. The final step of processing involves the transformation of a mental decision into motor and verbal behavior.

Social-information-processing theory therefore posits that people engage in these mental processes over and over in real time during social interactions and that within particular types of situations, individuals develop characteristic patterns of processing cues at each step in the model. These patterns form the basis of Psychopathologie tendencies.

The phenomenon of bullying deserves special attention by educators, parents and children concerned with violence prevention for two significant reasons. First, the prevalence of bullying and the harm that it causes are seriously underestimated by many children and adults. It is critical that any violence prevention strategy work to raise the awareness of children, school, staff, and parents regarding the link between bullying and other violent behaviours. Second, the nature of bullying does not necessarily lend itself to the same interventions that may effectively reduce other types of conflict among children. Because it involves harassment by powerful students with less power (rather than a conflict between peers of relatively equal status), common conflict resolution strategies such as mediation may not be effective.

METHOD

Participants

Participants for the study were one hundred and sixty (160) secondary school students drawn from three public and three private schools in Lagos Metropolis, which comprise of 81 male (50.6%) and 79 female (49.4%). Specifically, this sample were recruited from boarders and non-boarders co- educational schools (Boarder, ? = 39 (24.4%); Non-boarders (Day) ? = 121 (75.6%). They were aged between 12 and 18 years (M= 11.21, SD= 2.32).

Design

The study employed a survey design.

Instruments

The following instruments were used to collect data for the study:

1 Negative Act scale (NAQ Scale) developed by Ayenibiowo, Akinbode 8c Ojo (2009) was used to assess bullying. It is a 30-item questionnaire that measures the experiences of negative acts typical of bullying. The items on the measure are on 5-point Likert scale which comprises statements that express experience of negative acts typical of bullying. The statements refer to both direct and indirect acts typical of bullying. The respondents indicated the extent to which each statement applies to their experience by checking the number that best describe their opinion as (Never = 1; Now and then = 2; Monthly = 3; Weekly = 4; Daily = 5). NAQ-Scale has a Cronbach Alpha reliability coefficient of 0.90.

2 Symptom Distress Checklist 90 (SCL-90) developed by Dergatis, Lipman 8c Covi (1977) for the purpose of measuring several manifestations of emotional distress was used to assess symptoms of emotional distress. It is a 90-item inventory that covers 10 primary categories of symptoms associated with emotional distress and with the experience of anguish arising from the problems of living among people in general. The items on the measure are on 5-point Likert scales which compose of a list of problems and complaints people sometimes have. The respondents responded by checking the appropriate number that best described how much these problems bothered or distressed them in the recent past (Not At All = 0; A little bit = 1; Moderately = 2; Quite a bit = 3; Extremely = 4).

Procedure

Participants were recruited in their class voluntarily. Permission was obtained from the schools principals and class teachers to carry out the study among the students in each of the schools. Thereafter, the students were arranged in the classrooms during class period. Each of them was given the instruments to fill in the class. They were also given a brief description of the study and assured that all their responses were confidential. They were also allowed to ask for clarifications where necessary. On completion, participants submitted the filled questionnaires to the researcher. Filling out the questionnaire took approximately 30 minutes

Analytical Procedures

Participants were categorized as victims if they indicated that they had been bullied in any way (physically, verbally, or indirectly) "sometimes" or more often, if they perceived the experience to be at least "somewhat severe," and if they reported never having bullied others. Other possible frequency responses were "never" and "rarely," but previous research has usually only accepted bullying occurring "sometimes" or more often as genuine bullying (e.g., Whitney & Smith, 1993). Participants were categorized as bullies if they indicated that they had in any way bullied other children (physically, verbally, or indirectly) "sometimes" or more often, but had never themselves been victims of bullying. Finally, participants were categorized as bully-victims if they indicated that they had been bullied (physically, verbally, or indirectly) "sometimes" or more often, if they perceived the experience to be at least "somewhat severe," and if they had also bullied other children (physically, verbally, or indirectly) "sometimes" or more often. Participants who had never bullied others and who had never been victims were classified as uninvolved. This allowed 99 of the 160 participants to be categorized. The break down of the participants categorized is Male boarders (8) female boarders (31), Male Day students (73) Female Day students (48)

Results

Psychopathologies of bullying and emotional abuse were tested by implementing a two-factor multivariate analysis of variance (MANOVA) with self-report of participants from public and private schools as independent variables and Psychopathology of bullying and emotional abuse as dependent variables. When appropriate, this MANOVA was followed by univariate ANOVAs.

Overall, the mean scores of bully-victims in the various psychopathologies were higher that that of never-bullied (see Table 1). There was evidence of differences between type of school (public and private) in terms of the psychopathologies investigated as presented in Table I.

Results reveal a higher incidence of bullying among boys than girls in both public and private school (81.0% and 71.8%, respectively), although bullying is prevalent in public school compared to private schools. Meanwhile, girls in public school reported more incidences of bullying (42.9%) compared to their private school counterparts (25.0%). The results indicated that there were more bullying behaviour in among boys than the girls in private schools, Chisquare yielded significant ratios 0 ** 16.400, p<0.05. Similarly, bullying behaviour was more among boys than girls in public school, Chi-square yielded significant ratios of *5.411, p<0.05. The result support the first hypothesis which stated that bullying behaviour will be more prevalent among boys than girls in both private and public schools.

Further, the incidence of bullying behaviour among boys and girls by their school type was examined by cross tabulation of School type, sex and bullied behaviour. Result is presented in Table II.

Result in Table II indicated that 71.8% of boys who were day students identified themselves as bully victims, while 31.0% of their female counterparts indicated they were victims of bullying who are never bullied. Similarly, among boarding students 80.0% of boys reported they were victims of bullying, while 28.6% of girls reported they were bully victim. Higher incidence of bullying among boys in both day and boarding private schools yielded significant Chisquares ratios (X^sup 2^Cal. = 4.513 and 14.921) respectively. By implication therefore, there is a significant gender differences in the incidence of bully behaviour in schools regardless of type of schooling.

Results from MANOVA indicated significant effect of bullying with a Wilks Lambda = .775, and significant F-ratios for participants' somatisation, obsessive-compulsive, interpersonal sensitivity, depression, anxiety, phobic anxiety, paranoid ideation, psychoticism and neuroticism respectively. Thus, hypothesis two which stated that victims of bullying experience more physical and psychological problems than their peers who are not harassed by others finds support from the data. Also, results indicated interaction effect of bullying and type of school on phobic anxiety behaviour among the students under investigation (F-ratio = 5.962, p<0.05). Similarly, results indicated interaction effect (with significant F-ratios) of bullying and gender on somatisation, obsessive-compulsive, interpersonal sensitivity, anxiety, phobic anxiety, paranoid ideation and neuroticism.

Discussion

This study examined the psychopathology of bullying and emotional abuse among school children. Frequent bullying has been observed to be a predicting factor for anxiety disorders in early adulthood. In recent times, evidence of statistical association between being bullied and development of eating pathology, multiple mental disorders (e.g., anxiety, depression) both in female and male victims has been reported (Salmivalli, Kaukiainen, 8c Lagerspetz 1996; Kochenderfer 8c Ladd, 1997; Roland, 2002). Some authors have reported on a number of negative psychological and physical effects of school bullying including reduced self-esteem, poor physical health, decreased school attendance and performance and increased depression and anxiety (Leymann 8c Gustafsson, 1996; Smith, 1997; Lyznicki et al, 2004; Rivers, 2004; Tehrani, 2004). The risk for these negative outcomes is increased if the bullying is severe, prolonged and the victim lacks adequate social support (Leymann & Gustafsson, 1996; Rigby, 2003). The current study shows that bullying behaviour was more prevalent among boys than girls in both private and public schools. Also, the incidence of bullying behaviour was more pronounced among boys and girls who were day students compared to those who were boarders. Victims of bullying experience more physical and psychological problems than their peers who are not harassed by others. This finding is consistent with the reports of Williams, Chambers, Logan, 8c Robinson, (1996), and Limber 8c Nation, (2009) that victims of bullying experience more physical and psychological problems than their peers who are not harassed by others and such tend not to grow out of the role of victim. Similar studies have also suggested that chronically victimized students may be at increased risk for depression, poor self-esteem, and other mental health problems, including schizophrenia in adulthood (Parker & Asher, 1987; Olweus, 1994; Rivers & Smith, 1994). The result also indicates that bullied public school boys experience more physical and emotional abuse than their peers who are in private schools. Nevertheless, Olweus (1993, 1994) on bullying among children, suspected that personality traits among victims and bullies are major determinant of victimization in schools.

Conclusion and recommendations

The main objective of conducting this research on bullying at school is to contribute to the prevention and constructive management of various psychopathologies associated with bullying episodes among school children. To accomplish this, different types of information have been provided. First we provide descriptive information on the phenomenon itself, thereby drawing special attention of educators, parents and children concerned. Second, we also provide empirical evidence of the prevalence of bullying behaviour and the harm that it causes among the victims. A review of our findings in this respect has been presented in this paper. Thirdly, information on the causes and consequences of the problem are also provided from both theoretical and empirical standpoint. To comprehensively address the wide range of factors that contribute to the development and maintenance of bullying behaviour in schools, effective response to the problem will entail not only risk assessments, preventative measures, and policies but also effective child care practices and role modeling to inculcate the needed culture. These are primary and secondary forms of intervention that we must engage. Tertiary interventions must also be considered in regard to the needs of the target of emotional abuse, for changing or removing the source of the problem may not deal fully with the scars that remain and continue to impede the individual. We briefly outline some implications for practice that our current knowledge of emotional abuse allows. A risk management approach would suggest the need for a comprehensive assessment of risk factors associated with bullying and emotional abuse. Although the research literature and theorizing on sources of emotional abuse are still developing, there are some directions that can be fruitfully pursued in terms of reducing the risk.

The co-occurrence of various forms of harassment suggest that policies need to be conceived broadly to promote respectful treatment and at the same time define and proscribe certain types of aggressive behaviors, such as sexual and racial harassment, intimidation, and exclusion. The school needs to indicate clearly what constitutes abusive treatment and to identify the procedures for notifying appropriate persons of the situation and for investigating the concerns raised.

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Author affiliation:

Kehinde O. Ayenibiowo (Ph.D) & Gabriel A. Akinbodet

Department of Psychology

University of Lagos

Author affiliation:

* Kehinde.ayenibiowo@yahoo.com

[dagger] bodegabriel@yahoo.com

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