Longitudinal Associations between Submissive/Nonassertive Social Behavior and Different Types of Peer Victimization

By Fox, Claire L.; Boulton, Michael J. | Violence and Victims, June 2006 | Go to article overview

Longitudinal Associations between Submissive/Nonassertive Social Behavior and Different Types of Peer Victimization


Fox, Claire L., Boulton, Michael J., Violence and Victims


Previous research, primarily in North America, has found that submissive and nonassertive behaviors are associated with peer victimization during childhood. A limitation of this work has been the failure to examine the relationships between such behaviors and different types of peer victimization. To overcome this weakness, we developed an inventory to assess the bidirectional longitudinal associations between three different types of victimization and submissive/nonassertive social behavior. The inventory was completed by 449 children aged 9 to 11 years at two time points over the course of an academic year. The inventory generated self-report scores and peer nominations. A robust finding was that submissive/nonassertive social behavior predicted an increase in social exclusion only. In examining the other direction of the relationship, we found that only social exclusion predicted changes in submissive/nonassertive social behavior over time. The findings advance our understanding of the social skills deficits that put children at risk for peer victimization, and of the implications of victimization for the development of submissive/ nonassertive social skills problems.

Keywords: bullying; schools; peer victimization; submissive/nonassertive social behavior

Researchers have found that being bullied by peers (referred to as peer victimization henceforward) may have serious short- and long-term consequences. Being a victim of bullying has been associated with a number of adjustment problems, such as depression (Neary & Joseph, 1994; Slee, 1995b), anxiety (Olweus, 1978; Slee, 1994), low self-esteem (Boulton & Smith, 1994), loneliness (Boulton & Underwood, 1992), common health symptoms (Williams, Chambers, Logan, & Robinson, 1996), school absenteeism (Reid, 1983), relationship problems in adult life (Gilmartin, 1987), and poorer health status (Slee, 1995a). A meta-analytic review of cross-sectional studies published between 1978 and 1997 found that while peer victimization was correlated with a range of psychosocial adjustment indices, the relationship was strongest for depression, and weakest for anxiety (Hawker & Boulton, 2000).

Unfortunately, results from cross-sectional (concurrent) studies can be interpreted in many different ways, so far as development is concerned. Significant concurrent associations could suggest that peer victimization leads to adjustment difficulties, or that these problems are antecedents to peer victimization. Most researchers now agree that maladjustment is both a cause and a consequence of being bullied. This suggests that children get caught in a vicious cycle when victimized, with one problem exacerbating the other. More recent studies have employed prospective longitudinal designs to try and help unravel the causal direction of effects. For example, Egan and Perry (1998) found that children with a low self-regard were at risk for increased peer victimization and that peer victimization predicted lower self-regard over the school year. Kochenderfer and Ladd (1996) reported that peer victimization in the fall led to later school maladjustment in the spring.

Individual Risk Factors for Peer Victimization

Researchers are now endeavoring to understand the factors that put children at risk for peer victimization (risk factors). Guiding this work is the view that an improved understanding will lead to more effective ways of tackling the problem of bullying in schools. The present article aims to add to this literature. The general aim is to examine reciprocal longitudinal associations between children's social behavior and their experiences of peer victimization. Below we present an overview of previous studies, highlighting some of their limitations, along with relevant theoretical work that together provide a rationale for the aims of the present study.

Cross-Sectional Studies. Several studies have found that victims tend to display non-assertive behavior (e. …

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Longitudinal Associations between Submissive/Nonassertive Social Behavior and Different Types of Peer Victimization
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