Invisible victims? Examination of anxious, depressive, and aggressive symptomatology in adolescents who observe bullying
The purpose of this study was to determine if students who observe bullying report higher levels of depression, anxiety, and aggression as compared to students who do not observe bullying. Three hypotheses guided this investigation. First, it was hypothesized that students who observe bullying will have significantly higher internalizing (e.g., depression and anxiety) and externalizing (e.g., aggression) problems than those who do not observe bullying. Second, males will exhibit higher scores on self-reported externalizing behaviors (i.e., The Aggression Questionnaire), and females will exhibit higher scores on self-reported internalizing behaviors (i.e., The Multidimensional Anxiety Scale for Children and Children’s Depression Inventory). Secondary analyses were run to determine if the effect of observer status was dependent on gender and/or grade. Third, students who report a higher frequency of observing bullying interactions will also report higher internalizing and externalizing problems than students who report observing bullying at a lower frequency.
Participants in this current investigation were 129 sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth grade students across three Midwestern schools. Findings from ANCOVAs utilizing multiple regression confirm that students who observe bullying report significantly higher rates of anxiety than students who do not observe bullying. After controlling for observer status as well as frequency of observation, school and grade, females report significantly higher levels of anxiety than males. Students who observed bullying at a higher frequency (once or more per day) reported significantly higher levels of anxiety than students who did not observe bullying. Surprisingly, there were no significant differences between students who observed bullying interactions and those who did not on self report scores of depression and aggression.
The implications of the results are discussed, as well as the potential impact that the findings may have on bullying prevention and intervention. Finally, this study will address the limitations of the current investigation and will identify possible directions for future research.