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Houbre, B., Tarquinio, C., Thuillier, I. & Hergott, E. (2006). Bullying among students and its consequences on health. European Journal of Psychology of Education, 21, 183-208.

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According to Olweus (1989), “a student is being bullied or victimized when he or she is exposed, repeatedly and over time, to negative actions on the part of one or more students.” Bullying has three specific characteristics: frequency, the intention to hurt, and an asymmetric relationship between the bully and the victim. This kind of aggression can be direct or indirect; it can be expressed in words, physical contact or by way of social relations (Berkowitz, 1993; Dodge & Coie, 1987; Olweus, 1984; Smith & Sharp, 1994). Victims of bullying are generally unpopular among peers, are more anxiety-ridden and unstable, and display little self-confidence (Craig, 1997; Kahtri, Kupersmidt, & Patterson, 2000; Olweus, 1989; Perry, Kusel, & Perry, 1988; Slee, 1995). High scores on certain victimization scales are often associated with low scores in scholastic competence, social acceptance, athletic competence, physical appearance, and global self-worth (Andreou, 2000; Boulton & Smith, 1994). Victims tend to have more negative self-concepts than individuals in the other two groups involved in bullying (Boulton & Underwood, 1992; Largerspets, Björkqvist, Berts, & King, 1982; Olweus, 1978, 1984). Rigby (1999) showed that severe victimization was often associated with poor physical health; victims were found to suffer more from sleep disorders, bedwetting, headaches, stomachaches, and feeling unhappy (Williams, Chambers, Logan, & Robinson, 1996). Boys tended to have more headaches and backaches, and to be more irritable than girls, who were more nervous and had more sleep disorders. The number of symptoms appears to be dependent on the social support provided by the teacher for girls and by peers for boys. Bully victims obtain high scores on neurotic and psychotic scales, are at the bottom of the social acceptance ranking (Mynard & Joseph, 1997), and are rejected by peers (Bower, Smith, & Binney, 1992). Studies have shown that children who play a bully/victim or bully “role” are subject to hyperactivity and manifest many externalization behaviors – extraversion, inability to sit still, need to shout, etc. By contrast, victims exhibit mainly internalization behaviors – withdrawal, introversion, etc. (Kumpulainen et al., 1998; Laukkanen, Shemeikka, Notkola, Koivumaa-Honkanen, & Nissinen, 2002). If children exhibit behavioral problems at the age of 8, then they are 1.9 times more likely to drink alcohol and twice as likely to smoke or take drugs (Lynskey & Ferguson, 1995).

Method (Study 1): The sample was composed of 116 pupils ages 9 to 12 in fourth or fifth grade from schools in France. Harter’s (1982) Self-Perception Profile for Children (SPPC) was administered; the areas covered are school, social competence, athletic competence, appearance, conduct, and global self-worth. The second questionnaire included two subscales, the “Peer Victimization Scale” and the “Bullying Behavior Scale”, published by Austin and Joseph (1996). Each subscale is composed of six items scored on a four-point scale. The child had to pick which group of children he/she resembled the most. Before filling in the questionnaires, the children were given a definition of bullying: “We say a pupil is being bullied, or picked on, when another pupil, or group of pupils, say nasty and unpleasant things to him or her. It is also bullying when a pupil is hit, kicked, threatened, locked inside a room, sent nasty notes, when no one ever talks to them or things like that. These things can happen frequently, and it is difficult for the pupil being bullied to defend himself or herself. It is also bullying when a pupil is teased repeatedly in a nasty way. But it is not bullying when two pupils of about the same strength have the odd fight or quarrel (Piers, 1984).”

Results (Study 1): 38.8% of the pupils were involved in bullying; victims were the most numerous (15.52%), followed by bullies (12.93%) and then children who were both victims and bullies (10.34%). Girls were less involved in bullying than boys, and most of the involved girls were victims. Boys primarily played the “role” of aggressor. Bully/victims obtained the lowest scores on dimensions related to self-control, social competence, physical appearance, and global self-worth. Concerning the victims, they obtained higher scores than the bully/victims but lower ones than the bullies. Concerning the bullies, they were the ones who had the best self-concepts, the highest opinions of their physical appearance, and the most global self-worth.

Discussion (Study 1): Bullying is likely to affect a pupil’s identity on both the cognitive (self-concept) and affective (self-worth) levels.

Method (Study 2): The sample was composed of 291 subjects, 148 fourth graders and 143 fifth graders. The pupils ranged in age between 9 and 12 and were attending schools in France. A 44-itme psychosomatic symptom scale was utilized to assess cognitive difficulties (trouble concentrating, memory problems), neurovegetative disorders, part 1 (dizziness, vision problems, tingling sensations), sleep disorders, digestive disorders, neurovegetative disorders, part 2 (heart palpitations, trouble breathing), somatic pain, eating disorders, skin conditions (itching, pimples), vegetative symptoms and dysuria (dry mouth, perspiration, feeling tense), and diarrhea and constipation. Each item was scored on a scale ranging from 0 (never) to 4 (every day). The Inventory of youth behavioral problems was utilized. The social-competence scale includes an activity subscale, a social subscale, and a school subscale. The behavioral-problem scale consists of 119 forced-choice items to which the child has to answer “not true” (0), “somewhat or sometimes true” (1), or “very true or often true” (2).

Results (Study 2): 48.8% of the children were involved in bullying. For the set of all children involved in bullying, 60% had more than 15 symptoms. Among these, 78% were bully/victims, 68% were victims, and 40% were bullies. Pupils who were victims and bullies obtained the highest score on every dimension (except for cognitive problems, where victims scored higher). Victims had higher means than bullies in all other areas except digestive and neurovegetative disorders part 2. The lowest score on the social dimension was obtained by the bully/victims, and the highest score by the bullies. The bully/victims gave themselves the highest mean rating on behavioral problem. The more behavioral problems the children had, the greater the number and frequency of psychosomatic problems. We also found a negative link with the social dimension: the lower the social score, the greater the psychosomatic symptoms.

Discussion (Study 2): Bullies had low scholastic competence. Many studies have found a positive link between failure in school and aggressive behavior (Baranger, 1999; Dornbush, Mounts, Lamborn, & Steinberg, 1991).

Discussion: Bully/victims seem were the most highly affected (mainly by neurovegetative disorders, digestive problems, somatic pain, and skin conditions). Victims, on the other hand, seem to suffer in particular from cognitive difficulties; bullies have digestive and neurovegetative disorders.