Teen bullies and victims linked by distorted thinking

Dr Geraldine Abdilla, of St Albans, surveyed 1,086 adolescents aged 13 to 17 for her research and found distorted thinking played an important role in the emergence of bullying and victimisation.

Dr Abdilla said the results showed anti-bullying interventions that included cognitive-behavioural techniques could help both the bullies and their victims.

“The study showed there were strong links between bullying, cognitive distortions and psychosocial functioning among teenagers,” Dr Abdilla said.

“While bullies have self-serving patterns of thinking – in which they justify and rationalise their behaviour – victims have self-debasing cognitive distortions, where they blame themselves, put themselves down and feel guilt and shame.

“Both these distorted patterns have a negative impact on teenagers’ psychosocial functioning, with victims reporting higher levels of depression, anxiety, and anger, and lower levels of self-esteem and school connectedness. For bullies, distortions were associated with lower peer attachment and school connectedness.

“By integrating cognitive-behaviour techniques that challenge these destructive thinking patterns into our approach to bullying, we could not only help reduce the long-term impact on victims but also change the bullies themselves.”

The research found teenagers who were both the perpetrators and victims of bullying (bully-victims) experienced both self-serving and self-debasing patterns of thinking, and were the worst affected in their psychosocial functioning.

Only a small proportion of victims in the survey had been cyber-bullied, but those who were bullied both online and in real life had the worst psychosocial outcomes.

“Bullying has long-standing effects including depression and anxiety that go beyond the teenage years and can cause long-term suffering,” Dr Abdilla said.

“I hope this research leads to the development of better anti-bullying interventions for all involved in the bully-victim cycle, as well as providing an impetus for further training and resources to help people manage bullying when it occurs.” 

Dr Abdilla will be celebrating her achievements with more than 6,000 other graduates at RMIT’s spectacular Graduation Ceremony at Etihad Stadium on Wednesday, 15 December.

For interviews: Dr Geraldine Abdilla, 0433 294 646.

For media enquiries: RMIT University Communications, Gosia Kaszubska, (03) 9925 3176 or 0417 510 735.