Bullying doesn’t end in the school yard, but casts a shadow across adulthood, when victims are far more likely to have emotional, behavioral, financial and health problems, a new study suggests.
Those who were both victim and perpetrator as schoolchildren fared the worst as adults: They were more than six times more likely to be diagnosed with a serious illness or psychiatric disorder, and to smoke regularly, according to the study published Monday in the journal Psychological Science.
The poor results for victims and victim-perpetrators prevailed even when such factors as family hardship and childhood psychiatric disorders were statistically controlled.
Victim-perpetrators are “the most socially defeated because they actually do try to fight back, but they’re unsuccessful,” said Dieter Wolke, a University of Warwick psychologist and lead author of the study.
Bullies tended to enter adulthood with similar problems as their victims, but few of those adult outcomes were strongly correlated with bullying itself, the study found. Those correlations tended to wash out once other factors were taken into account, said Wolke. Bullies tended to engage in more risky behavior and to have criminal records.
The result for bullies is supported by previous work, which suggests they are strong and healthy, competent in emotional recognition and adept at manipulating others. Victims aside, bullies tend to have more acquaintances and social status, previous studies have shown.