Study Finds Girls More Likely Than Boys to Notice Bullying and Realize Its Harm

According to a study from researchers at Florida State University and the University of Buffalo, girls are far more likely than boys to notice instances of bullying and interpret them as emergencies.

“Research has found girls are more likely to recognize the harm of bullying and experience more emotional distress when experiencing bullying as a victim or a bystander,” said lead author Lyndsay Jenkins, assistant professor in the College of Education at Florida State University. “Girls tend to be more empathetic, whereas boys are more likely to disengage.”

For the study, researchers surveyed nearly 300 middle-school students from rural Illinois by using the Bystander Intervention Model that includes five steps to examine the actions of bystanders in bullying: noticing the event, interpreting the event as an emergency, accepting responsibility for intervening, knowing how to intervene, and actually intervening. While the results found that girls engaged more in three out of five steps in the intervention model, they found that accepting responsibility and knowing what to do was evenly distributed among boys and girls.

The research team also examined social skills of empathy, cooperation and assertiveness and how each related to the five-step model of intervening. They found that children with greater empathy were more likely to engage in the last four steps of the model, but less likely to actually notice the bullying initially. More assertive kids were more likely to intervene and the more cooperative kids were less likely to get involved. When broken down by gender, girls tended to have higher scores for empathy and cooperation. Additionally, there was no significant difference in the scores of assertiveness between girls and boys.

In the future, the research team believes this study should be duplicated in more diverse school environments so scholars can examine cultural influences, school climate, and social norms to better understand the issue of bullying in schools.

“We need to think much more broadly about bullying and victimization,” said Dr. Jenkins. “It’s not just something that happens between two people, but it’s something that really involves everyone at the school. We need to encourage more kids to be defenders.”

Dr. Jenkins has been a faculty member at Florida State University since 2017. She holds a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree, and Ph.D. all in psychology from Northern Illinois University.

The full study, “Bystander Intervention in Bullying: Role of Social Skills Gender,” was published in the Journal of Early Adolescence. It may be accessed here.

Filed Under: Research/Study


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