The Bully/Victimization Questionnaire (BVQ) has been used throughout the world to capture the rates of peer bullying and victimization, a social dilemma that has been the focus of much research in recent years. The BVQ provides the respondent with a definition of bullying, describing it as intentional and repeated acts of aggression. The respondent is then instructed to detail any bullying victimization they have experienced. Although this approach is intended to identify victims, the definition of bullying is much more subjective. Jennifer Greif Green of the School of Education at Boston University wanted to see if the BVQ’s definition of power imbalance and bullying were in line with individuals’ own assessments of bullying.
Green conducted a study involving 435 students who had experienced victimization. The students completed the BVQ and also a questionnaire that asked about behaviors, power, and aggression, without using the word bullying. She found that the BVQ was quite effective at identifying students who had experienced repeated aggression and various forms of aggression. These students responded positively to being victims of bullying in those terms. However, when power and control in peer relationships was explored, imbalance of power was not strongly associated with bullying on the BVQ. In fact, power inequality seemed to lead to feelings of general peer victimization rather than bullying victimization, per se.
These findings shed some light on subjective responses. Many young people may feel stigmatized when they assume the role of victim, causing increases in anxiety. Being a bullying victim can undermine their sense of strength and self-worth, causing them to avoid the term altogether. However, when aggression occurs only sporadically, they may focus more intently on the acts of the perpetrator, casting them in the negative role of bully rather than taking on the helpless role of victim. However, Green also noticed that the students were quicker to identify aggressive peers as bullies if they were more likeable when compared to those who were less likable. This reinforces the notion that perception and subjectivity are very important factors to consider when identifying those most at risk for bullying victimization. In sum, these results demonstrate the need for an individualized bullying/victimization assessment tool. Green added, “Given the high prevalence of bullying in schools worldwide, such a tool would be invaluable in the goal to stop the harm of bullying experiences.”
Green, J. G., Felix, E. D., Sharkey, J. D., Furlong, M. J., and Kras, J. E. (2012). Identifying bully victims: Definitional versus behavioral approaches. Psychological Assessment. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0031248
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