Social Psychology of Education
An International Journal
Soc Psychol Educ (2015) 18:185-200
Bullying affects more than feelings: the
long-term implications of victimization on
academic motivation in higher education
Adena Young-Jones, Sophie Fursa,
Jacqueline S.Byrket & James S.Sly
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Soc Psychol Educ (2015) 18:185–200
Bullying affects more than feelings: the long-term
implications of victimization on academic motivation
in higher education
Adena Young-Jones · Sophie Fursa ·
Jacqueline S. Byrket · James S. Sly
Received: 22 January 2014 / Accepted: 20 October 2014 / Published online: 11 December 2014
© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014
Abstract Bullying has become a prominent topic within education due to recent
media headlines in the United States and abroad. The impact of these occurrences
ripples beyond the bully and victim to include administrators, parents, and fellow stu-
dents. While previous research has concluded bullying behaviors decrease as a child
progresses in school, more recent studies found bullying can continue into college. The
current project investigated differences between perceptions of bullying in high school
and college along with how college students’ experiences with bullying impacted sev-
eral constructs related to academic success (i.e., basic psychological needs, academic
motivation, perceived social support, and perceived stress). Participants (N = 130,
68 male) completed a Perceptions of Bullying Questionnaire, Basic Psychological
Needs Scale (BPNS), Academic Motivation Scale, Multidimensional Scale of Per-
ceived Social Support, Perceived Stress Scale, and a demographic data form. The
results indicate participants who described themselves as either current or past bully-
ing victims had signiﬁcantly lower academic motivation than respondents who did not.
In addition, current victims of bullying scored signiﬁcantly lower on two of the three
Electronic supplementary material The online version of this article (doi:10.1007/s11218-014-9287-1)
contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
A. Young-Jones (
) · S. Fursa · J. S. Byrket · J. S. Sly
Psychology Department, Missouri State University, 901 South National Avenue, Springﬁeld,
MO 65897, USA
J. S. Byrket
J. S. Sly
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186 A. Young-Jones et al.
constructs in the BPNS: autonomy and competence. These ﬁndings suggest students
are susceptible to bullying after high school, and the effects can negatively impact
college life, academic motivation, and educational outcomes. In addition, past victim-
ization can cause academic difﬁculties for college students, even after the harassment
Keywords Bullying · Higher education · Academic motivation · Basic psychological
needs · Basic needs
Bullying is a prominent social and educational issue impacting students, families, and
schools around the world. When bullying acts are carried out on school grounds, expo-
sure to violence can result in students experiencing lower self-esteem, achievement,
and/or motivation in the classroom; academic achievement can also decline from low
social support or high stress while victimization is occurring. This leads researchers
to the following question: can current/previous bullying negatively impact academic
motivation at the collegiate level? Furthermore, this question needs to be addressed
globally as bullying practices are comparable across countries, and the trend may be
an international phenomenon. The present study sought to examine different factors
between students who occupied the role of bullying perpetrator or victim and how this
potentially impedes their success at a university.
Bullying behaviors differ f rom playful teasing, because the victim is a continuous
target and has few means in which to defend him/herself (Olweus 1993). School bullies
are classiﬁed based on the harassment method they employ. Three types referred to
consistently in the literature are physical, verbal, and relational bullies (Beale 2001).
Physical bullies primarily inﬂict violence on their victims by s hoving, punching, or
kicking. Verbal bullies utilize name-calling, personal threats, and other crude verbal
remarks to harass victims. Relational bullies use a slightly more sophisticated method.
They purposefully make individuals feel isolated; this could occur by outright exclu-
sion of the person from a group or by spreading false rumors. A more recent form of
bullying, labeled cyber-bullying, has become more frequent with advances in technol-
ogy (see Tokunaga 2010 for r eview). Cyber-bullying consists of all harassment that
takes place on an electronic device and encompasses sending vulgar text messages
and emails as well as posting derogatory comments on social media sites (Beale and
Though bullying methods may differ, 8 % of students report inﬂicting harm on
others more than twice in a given school week (Nansel et al. 2001). In this national
assessment on the scope of bullying, approximately 30 % of students admitted to
assuming either the role of bully, victim, or both. More recently, participants from
75 elementary schools, 20 middle schools, and 14 high schools in t he United States
reported that more than 40 % of s tudents play a bullying role (i.e., bully, victim, or
both) at least twice a month (Bradshaw et al. 2007). Likewise, they found more than
49 % of participants claimed to be victims and over 30 % reported bullying another
peer in the past month. With such substantial percentages of school-aged children
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Bullying damages more than feelings 187
engaging in these practices, understanding all aspects of bullying, both in and outside
the United States, is of the utmost importance.
Bullying has been cited as a widespread problem in education, affecting students
around the world (Hilton et al. 2010; Karatzias et al. 2002; Molcho et al. 2009; Nansel
et al. 2004). Yet, the research on international bullying is inconsistent. As addressed in
Borntrager et al. (2009), the majority of studies evaluating international samples have
been done in seclusion, each exercising their own deﬁnition of bullying and process
for assessing it. This has made comparing results across countries complicated as the
observable differences may be due to experimental methodology rather than variances
in bullying behaviors. Nevertheless, the few examinations utilizing a consistent pro-
cedure revealed that the prevalence of bullying varies by country (Molcho et al. 2009;
Nansel et al. 2004). In particular, Swedish children report signiﬁcantly less bullying
than children from North America and other European countries. This may be due to
a national law in Sweden protecting schoolchildren from violence (Due et al. 2005).
Despite bullying rates differing from country to country, some international sim-
ilarities exist in bullying outcomes. Nansel et al. (2004) states that an association
between bullying involvement and lower psychosocial adjustment appeared in each
of the 25 countries they surveyed. Similarly noted in Molcho et al. (2009), most coun-
tries have experienced a decrease in bullying over time. Even though the amount of
decline differed for each participating country, the international community should be
encouraged since efforts to reduce bullying have been effective. Finally, cross-national
comparisons have reliably found that boys initiate bullying behaviors more often than
girls (Borntrager et al. 2009; Rigby and Slee 1991; Wolke et al. 2001).
Researchers have consistently found males are most often the victims and instigators
of school violence within the United States (Nansel et al. 2001; Seals and Young
2003). In addition, earlier works reveal males use physical forms of bullying most
often, whereas females resort to relational forms more frequently (Beale 2001; Nansel
et al. 2001). The few investigations centered on university students found that these
characteristics differ slightly in college (Chapell et al. 2004, 2006). In Chapell et al.
(2004), males bully more often than females, but in a follow-up study (2006), these
researchers asserted that both physical and verbal bullying forms are more prevalent in
males. No other gender differences appeared in their results. Furthermore, Chapell et
al. (2004) established that bullying is present on college campuses. Surprisingly, 60 %
of participants had witnessed some form of student-to-student bullying on campus
grounds with over 40 % of participants reporting they had witnessed a university
employee bully an enrolled student. This ﬁnding debunks the commonly held myth
that bullying is solely a childhood problem.
Not only does bullying occur in higher education, but the same students who are
victimized in college often suffered in elementary and high school as well (Adams
and Lawrence 2011; Chapell et al. 2006). This suggests that past victimization is
a risk factor for future victimization and the ‘bullying victim’ role remains stable
throughout time. Students who faced harassment all through their early schooling
may carry negative baggage from the experience into the collegiate environment.
Therefore, universities should inform professors, student affairs workers, residential
assistants, and others who work closely with students t hat bullying can occur on
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188 A. Young-Jones et al.
campus, and individuals who have experienced victimization in the past may need
extra encouragement and support.
Of the bullying studies utilizing college participants, most evaluate the long-term
effects previous victims carry into adulthood. For instance, researchers have examined
how self-esteem, psychological wellbeing, and stress levels differ between bullying
victims and their peers. The results show both self-esteem and psychological wellbeing
are signiﬁcantly lower in past victims whereas stress levels are signiﬁcantly higher
(Newman et al. 2005; Scafer et al. 2004; Sesar et al. 2012). Speciﬁcally, symptoms
of trauma, depression, and anxiety can remain long after harassment has concluded
(Sesar et al. 2012). Studies are still needed to determine whether the same impact is
present in college students who are currently experiencing maltreatment as opposed to
students who have experienced only past victimization. Moreover, research is needed
to relate these long-term effects to collegiate academic success.
Minimal research is available examining the academic consequences of bullying in
the college environment. To our knowledge, all cross-national studies have assessed
bullying i n a school-aged population; none have assessed students in higher education.
These studies report contradictory results in regard to academic achievement. Nansel
et al. (2001) asserted that bullies themselves had signiﬁcantly lower school perfor-
mance scores. Yet, Woods and Wolke (2004) found bullies, speciﬁcally those who
execute relational forms of harassment, had signiﬁcantly higher achievement scores.
Woods and Wolke also claimed that only victims of relational bullying had signif-
icantly lower academic scores, but other studies indicated victims in general score
lower academically (Glew et al. 2005; Schwartz et al. 2005). Additional research is
necessary to assess whether academic differences between past and current bullying
participants appear within the college population.
In higher education, the extent to which a student is motivated to learn is an impor-
tant component of academic success. Self-Determination Theory (SDT) emphasizes
the value of autonomy, relatedness, and competence in enhancing academic motiva-
tion (Deci and Ryan 1985, 2002). Referred to as the “basic psychological needs,”
these three constructs are essential for maintaining overall psychological wellness. In
the classroom, SDT suggests that all three basic needs must be supported in order for
students to reach their highest academic potential (Deci and Ryan 2000; Fortier et al.
1995; Grolnick et al. 1991). The basic psychological needs have yet to be evaluated
in regard to bullying roles.
Alongside motivation, decreased levels of perceived stress and perceived social
support can negatively impact academic success (Bachrach and Read 2012; Cutrona
et al. 1994; Newman et al. 2005; Sharma 2013). Newman et al. (2005) researched
the extent to which victims of bullying felt stressed and isolated compared to peers.
Their results found victims experienced differing levels of stress in college based
on perceived social support. Students who faced constant victimization through their
younger schools years had lower stress levels if they perceived support from others
(i.e., family, friends, or a signiﬁcant other). Effects of perceived social support and
perceived stress have not been evaluated in college students currently dealing with
The present study aimed to identify whether college students’ experiences with
bullying impacted several constructs related to academic success. The researchers were
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Bullying damages more than feelings 189
Table 1 Demographic characteristics of participants by sex
Demographic item Male (n = 68) Female (n = 62) Total (N = 130)
n % n % N %
Year in school
First-time freshman 33 49 41 66 74 57
Other freshman 2 3 – – 2 2
Sophomore 21 31 18 29 39 30
Junior 8 12 3 5 11 8
Senior 4 6 – – 4 3
European Americans 5 84 53 49 110 85
African American 3 4 5 3 8 6
Hispanic 2 3 1 31 3 2
Other 6 9 3 12 9 7
particularly interested in evaluating differences between bullying victims, perpetrators,
and non-participants in the basic psychological needs, academic motivation, perceived
social support, and perceived stress. Both past and current participation in bullying
was recorded to see if signiﬁcant differences would appear between both past and
current victims and non-victims. The relationship between being a bullying victim and
academic motivation was of most interest as little research has gauged the academic
consequences of bullying i n higher education.
Participants were undergraduate students from a public, Midwestern university (N =
130, 68 male). The majority were in their ﬁrst two years of college (freshman 59 %,
sophomore 30 %) and were primarily European Americans (85 %). Results from this
study cannot be considered truly universal due to the limited ethnic diversity of the
sampled population. Nevertheless, results still yield factors that should be of concern
to collegiate institutions. For a complete demographic analysis split by sex for this
sample see Table 1.
The following surveys were administered to participants: Perceptions of Bullying
Questionnaire (PBQ), Basic Psychological Needs Scale (BPNS; Deci and Ryan 1985),
Academic Motivation Scale (AMS; Vallerand et al. 1992), Multidimensional Scale of
Perceived Social Support (MSPSS; Zimet et al. 1988), an adapted version of the
Perceived Stress Scale (PSS; Cohen et al. 1983), and a demographic data form.
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190 A. Young-Jones et al.
The Perceptions of Bullying Questionnaire (PBQ) was created by the researchers
based on a review of similar studies. The PBQ contained ﬁve subsections. The ﬁrst
subsection contained questions regarding bullying at the university and was entitled
“Bullying at University” (BU). This subsection asked the participants to rate a series
of statements using a Likert type scale from 1 (Strongly disagree)to7(Strongly agree)
such as “Bullying is a problem at this university.” The second and third subsections
focused on current bullying experiences (i.e., verbal harassment, social exclusion,
physical violence, and cyber-bullying). The second subsection, titled Current Bully-
ing Victimization (CBV) asked students to record the frequency in which they had
been victimized while attending the university. The third subsection, titled Current
Bully (CB), had participants report the frequency in which they had executed cer-
tain forms of harassment while attending the university. The ﬁnal two subsections
concentrated on students’ past bullying experiences (i.e., verbal harassment, social
exclusion, physical violence, and cyber-bullying). The fourth subsection was entitled
Past Bullying Victim (PBV) and asked students to record the frequency in which they
had been victimized prior to attending the university. The ﬁfth subsection called Past
Bully (PB) had students report the frequency in which they had executed certain forms
of harassment prior to attending the university. Including questions on both past and
current victimization and persecution was needed to assess how those roles relate to
the following constructs.
The Basic Psychological Needs Scale has been used in several studies (Ilardi et
al. 1993) and is comprised of 21 items assessing the three basic psychological needs
(autonomy, competence, and relatedness) proposed by Deci and Ryan (1985). Exam-
ples of items includes “I feel like I am free to decide for myself how to live my life”
(autonomy), “Often, I do not feel very competent” (competence), and “I really like the
people I interact with” (relatedness).
The Academic Motivation Scale (AMS; Vallerand et al. 1992) is a 27-item English
translated version of the French scale Echelle de Motivation en Education (EME;
Vallerand et al. 1989). The AMS measures academic motivation (on a continuum from
amotivation to intrinsic motivation) by asking participants to indicate what extent
a series of statements corresponds to why he/she goes to college. Participants are
to use a Likert type scale from 1 (Does not correspond at all)to7(Corresponds
exactly). Examples of items on the AMS include “Because I experience pleasure and
satisfaction while learning new things” (intrinsic motivation) and “Honestly, I don’t
know; I really feel that I am wasting my time in school” (amotivation). The AMS has
shown to be reliable and valid (Vallerand et al. 1992) as well as possessing concurrent
and construct validity (Vallerand et al. 1993).
The Multidimensional Scale of Perceived Social Support (MSPSS; Zimet et al.
1988) is a 12-item scale that measures the level of perceived social support of the
participant within three subscales (family, friends, signiﬁcant other). Participants are
asked to rate how they feel about each of the items on the scale using a Likert type
scale from 1 (Very strongly disagree)to7(Very strongly agree). Examples of items on
the MSPSS include “My family really tries to help me” (family), “I can count on my
friends when things go wrong” (friends), and “There is a special person who is around
when I am in need” ( signiﬁcant other). The MSPSS has been shown to have internal
reliability, factorial validity, and subscale validity (Zimet et al. 1990).
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Bullying damages more than feelings 191
The current study utilized a 10-item adapted version of the Perceived Stress Scale
(PSS; Cohen et al. 1983). The PSS asks participants to use a Likert type scale from 0
(Never)to4(Very often) to note how often he/she felt or thought a certain way during
the last month. An example of an item on the PSS is “In the last month, how often
have you felt nervous and “stressed”?”. The PSS has shown to be a reliable and valid
measure of perceived stress (Cohen et al. 1983).
Based on approval from the Institutional Review Board, participants were recruited
through the school’s Introductory Psychology class. As part of the course requirements,
students had to complete six credit hours of research participation. Students were able
to use this survey to ﬁll one credit hour of the research participation requisite. Interested
participants were able to sign up through the SONA system, a human subject pool
management software. As individuals elected to be involved, they were emailed a link
to read and accept the informed consent. After doing so, they could continue on to the
survey. Researchers supervised the entire data collection process online.
Within the ﬁrst subsection of the PBQ, titled Bullying at University (BU; Cronbach’s
α = 0.84; Cronbach 1951), a summation score was used with higher scores indicating
greater perceptions of bullying as a problem at this university. Examining the scores
for this subsection of the PBQ (M = 2.65, SD = 0.73), it appears participants did
not believe bullying was a problem at the university.
The CBV subsection of the PBQ ﬁrst asked participants to answer the question “I
have been a victim of bullying on one or more occasion,” and only 12.3 % answered
“yes” to this question. These ﬁndings are consonant with results of the BU subsec-
tion discussed above. However, more interestingly, the six follow-up questions asked
the participants about speciﬁc bullying behaviors told a different story. For example,
31.5 % of participants answered “yes” to the question “ My peers called me mean
names, made fun of, or teased me.” Overall, 49.2 % of participants answered “yes”
to at least one of the seven questions asking about current bullying victimization.
See Online Resource 1 for descriptive statistics regarding the Perceptions of Bullying
The CB subsection consisted of a revised version of the same six questions found
in the CBV subsection. For example, in the CBV subsection one of the questions
read, “My peers hit, kicked, or pushed me” the parallel question in the CB subsection
was rephrased to read, “I hit, kicked, or pushed one of my peers” (emphasis added).
Overall, 48.5 % of participants answered “yes” to at least one of these questions in the
CB subsection (see Online Resource 1).
Results from the PBV subsection revealed 73.8 % of the participants answered
“yes” to at least one of the seven questions asking about past bullying victimization.
Also, results from the PB subsection showed 62.3 % of participants answered “yes”
to at least one of the six questions asking about past bullying (see Online Resource 1).
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192 A. Young-Jones et al.
Table 2 Comparison results of current bullying victims to non-victims on Academic Motivation Relative
Autonomy Index (RAI) and Basic Psychological Need Satisfaction scales
Variable Current bullying victim
(n = 64)
Non-victim (n = 66) t(128) p Cohen’s
M(SD) 95 % CI M(SD) 95 % CI
−3.25 (2.83) [−3.96, −2.55]−1.23 (2.06) [−1.73, −0.72]−4.68 <.001 0.82
Basic psychological needs
Autonomy 4.92 (0.82) [4.72, 5.13] 5.28 (0.70) [5.11, 5.45] −2.68 .01 0.48
Competence 5.04 (1.07) [4.77, 5.30] 5.71 (1.05) [5.46, 5.97] −3.64 <.001 0.64
Relatedness 5.69 (0.93) [5.45, 5.92] 5.97 (0.81) [5.77, 6.17] −1.88 .06 0.32
As expected, many of the participants answered “yes” to more than one question
on each of the above-mentioned four subscales of the PBQ. To obtain a more accurate
percentage of participants that could be identiﬁed as a current bullying victim or
past bullying victim, we created two new dichotomous variables to indicate whether a
participant had answered “yes” to any of the questions in that speciﬁc subsection of the
PBQ. The results of creating these new variables indicated 49.2 % of the participants
could be identiﬁed as current bullying victims and 73.8 % could be identiﬁed as past
bullying victims. Comparing current bullying victims (49.2 %) to past bullying victims
(73.8 %), it appears bullying victimization does indeed decrease during the college
years; speciﬁcally, in our sample of participants, there was a 33 % decrease in the
bullying victimization from high school to college.
To examine gender differences we split the data by gender. We ﬁrst compared males
who self-reported as current bullying victims (51.5 %) to males who self-reported as
past bullying victims (73.5 %). In our sample of male participants, there was a 30 %
decrease in male bullying victimization from high school to college. Similarly, we
found female bullying appears to decrease in college. We compared females who
self-reported as current bullying victims (46.8 %) to past bullying victims (74.2 %).
In our sample of female participants, there was a 37 % decrease in female bullying
victimization from high school to college. Moreover, out of the 130 total participants,
60 (46.2 %) were both past bullying victims and are also current bullying victims. Of
the current bullying victims, only four were not previous bullying victims.
A series of independent t-tests, comparing current bullying victims to those who
were non-victims, examined the effects of current bullying victimization on college
students (see Table 2). Speciﬁcally, mean scores for Academic Motivation Relative
Autonomy Index (RAI; Connell and Ryan 1985, 1986); basic psychological needs
(i.e., autonomy, competence, relatedness); social support (i.e., family, f riends, sig-
niﬁcant other); and perceived stress were compared. Results of the t-tests indicate
students who are current bullying victims have signiﬁcantly lower academic motiva-
tion (M =−3.25, SD = 2.83) than students who are not current bullying victims
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Bullying damages more than feelings 193
(M =−1.23, SD = 2.06), t (128) =−4.68, p <.001, d = 0.82; signiﬁcantly
lower autonomy (M = 4.92, SD = 0.82) than students who are not current bullying
victims (M = 5.28, SD = 0.70), t(128) =−2.68, p = .01, d = 0.48; signiﬁcantly
lower competence (M = 5.04, SD = 1.07) than students who are not current bul-
lying victims (M = 5.71, SD
= 1.05), t (128) =−3.64, p <.001, d = 0.64. All
other comparisons were non-signiﬁcant ( ps >.05; see Table 2 for full results).
Additional independent t-tests compared past bullying victims with non-victims
to examine the effect of previous victimization on current students. As above, mean
scores for Academic Motivation RAI; basic psychological needs; social support; and
perceived stress were compared. Results of these t-tests indicated non-signiﬁcant dif-
ferences in all constructs ( ps >.05) except academic motivation, where past bullying
victims (n = 96) scored signiﬁcantly lower (M =−2.66, SD = 2.73) than stu-
dents who are not current bullying victims (n = 34, M =−0.99, SD = 2.04),
t(128) =−3.27, p = .001, d = 0
To examine more closely the different forms of current bullying and its effects
on academic motivation, we ran a series of independent t-tests comparing Academic
Motivation RAI scores for current bullying victims to non-victims for each of the six
questions in the CBV subsection of the Perceptions of Bullying Questionnaire. The
results for the question “My peers called me mean names, made fun of, or teased
me” indicate students (n = 41) who are current victims of verbal bullying have
signiﬁcantly lower academic motivation (M =−3.63, SD = 2.69) than students
(n = 77) who are not current victims of verbal bullying (M =−1.52, SD = 2.33),
t(116) =−4.44, p <.001, d = 0.82. Similar results were discovered for the
question “My peers hit, kicked, or pushed me” indicating students (n = 8) that are
current victims of physical bullying have signiﬁcantly lower academic motivation
(M =−4.22, SD = 3.09) than students (n = 122) who are not current victims of
physical bullying (M
=−2.09, SD = 2.59), t(128) =−2.22, p = .03, d = 0.39.
Caution should be exercised in interpreting results of these t-tests due to the unequal
and small sample sizes used. Results for other forms of bullying (exclusion from
peers, t (125) = 1.30, p = .20; gossip, t(121) =−1.43, p = .16; stolen or damaged
property, t(124) = 1.58, p = .12; cyber-bullying, t(125) = 0.18, p = .85) had no
effect on academic motivation RAI scores.
Finally, a binary logistic regression analysis was conducted to determine if any of
the independent variables (AMS RAI score, BPNS-Autonomy, BPNS-Competence,
BPNS-Relatedness, Social Support-Family, Social Support-Friends, Social Support-
Signiﬁcant Other, Perceived Stress) are predictors of bullying victimization. Using
the Backward: LR Method we found that only two of the eight independent variables
were predictors of bullying victimization (AMS RAI score and BPNS-Competence).
The regression results revealed a moderate model ﬁt for the two predictor variables
of AMS RAI score and BPNS-Competence (−2 Log Likelihood = 151.14, Cox and
= 0.20, Nagelkerke R
= 0.27). The model was statistically reliable in
predicting bullying victimization [χ
(2) = 29.05, p <.001] and correctly classiﬁed
72.3 % of the cases based on these two predictor variables. Wald statistics implied
that both AMS RAI score (Wald = 13.92, p <.001) and BPNS-Competence
(Wald = 8.04, p = .01) signiﬁcantly predicted bullying victimization. Odds ratios
for both predictor variables were below 1 suggesting that as either of these variables
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194 A. Young-Jones et al.
Table 3 Logistic regression coefﬁcients predicting bullying victimization from the Academic Motivation
Relative Autonomy Index (RAI) and basic psychological needs
B SE Wald df p Odds ratio
95 % CI for Exp(B)
AMS RAI −0.31 0.08 13.92 1 <.001 0.74 0.63 0.87
BPNS-Competence −0.53 0.19 8.04 1 .01 0.59 0.41 0.85
Constant 2.14 1.04 4.24 1 .04 8.51
increases by 1 the odds of being a bullying victim decreases by the given odds ratio.
Results of the logistic regression showed that a 1-point increase in AMS RAI reduced
the odds of bullying victimization classiﬁcation by 0.74; likewise, a 1-point increase in
BPNS-Competence reduced the odds of bullying victimization classiﬁcation by 0.59.
See Table 3 for logistic regression coefﬁcients.
Similar to previous research, our results demonstrate bullying behaviors do continue
after high school (Adams and Lawrence 2011; Chapell et al. 2004, 2006). However, as
reﬂected in previous ﬁndings (Nansel et al. 2001), bullying decreases as children move
through school; likewise, we found the prevalence of victimization does decrease in
higher education. Speciﬁcally, a 33 % decrease in self-reported victimization appeared
in our sample. Female participants had a slightly greater decline (37 %) compared to
males (30 %) in the transition between high school and college. Although a decrease
does appear, our results suggest that the same individuals face victimization throughout
their schooling. Only four of the current bullying victims had not dealt with harassment
in the past. This denotes that past victimization is an indicator of future victimization.
Additionally, academic motivation and BPNS-Competence scores are two predictors
of student victimization as demonstrated in our log regression results. Conversely, the
regression indicates bullying victimization could reduce student academic motivation
and BPNS-Competence scores (this is also revealed by the prior t-tests that were ran,
see Table 1). Since low levels of academic motivation and competence can lead students
to become targets of bullying, educators and administrations can positively inﬂuence
by providing supplemental assistance that can prevent victimization. Awareness of the
predictors and consequences of school violence should drive educators, parents, and
students to both reevaluate the seriousness of this issue and work to prevent future
Overall, participants in this study did not feel bullying was a signiﬁcant problem
at the university. When explicitly asked about experiences with bullying, only 12 %
of participants claimed to have ever been a victim. Yet, 49 % claimed to be victims
of individual acts considered by the researchers to demonstrate bullying behavior
(e.g., verbal harassment, physical violence, peer exclusion, property damage, cyber-
bullying). Several explanations could clarify this discrepancy. First, students may
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Bullying damages more than feelings 195
have an overly harsh perception of bullying. With the media attributing teen suicides
and school shootings to bullying, individuals may not feel the harassment they have
experienced to be in a similar realm. Another possible explanation is the adoption of
an overly lax view of bullying when entering college. Myths about college hazing and
harassment such as “everyone does it” or “it is just part of being a freshman” circle
around campuses, and students may accept these as reality. Finally, confusion could
exist as to what constitutes bullying since an operational deﬁnition of the construct
was not provided. Future research should assess whether this discrepancy occurs when
a deﬁnition is provided at the start of the survey.
In reviewing each item for the CBV subsection, the trend above was reafﬁrmed
regarding interactions with bully behaviors. Six questions asked to specify experi-
ence with individual bullying acts (e.g., verbal harassment, physical violence, peer
exclusion, property damage, cyber-bullying). Close to half (49.2 %) of participants
claimed they had been a victim of one or more of these acts while attending a uni-
versity. Likewise, almost half of participants (48.5 %) asserted they had inﬂicted one
or more of these bullying acts on a fellow student. Therefore, we believe bullying to
be a considerable issue at the college level even though students may not perceive it
Additional responses reﬂect a similar divergence. When participants were asked to
report the frequency in which they had experienced each of the six individual bullying
acts prior to attending the university, the majority (73.8 %) reported being victimized
by one or more individual bullying acts. This indicates that most participants had
suffered from some form of victimization in the past. A substantial percentage of
students (62.3 %) also reported inﬂicting one or more of the bullying acts on a fellow
student in the past, which suggests most participants have experience with exerting
Previous research on bullying within the college population has noted the lasting
effects bullying can have on a victim. Past studies have found differences in self-
esteem, psychological adjustment, and anxiety between college students who had been
victims of bullying and those who had not (Newman et al. 2005; Scafer et al. 2004;
Sesar et al. 2012). Our study found, in particular, that a disparity exists in autonomy and
competence, two of Self-Determination Theory’s (SDT) basic psychological needs.
Autonomy and competence were both signiﬁcantly lower for students classiﬁed as
current bullying victims. The third basic need, relatedness, was found to be marginally
lower. SDT contends psychological well-being and optimal motivation are not feasible
unless all three constructs are satisﬁed (Deci and Ryan 2000; Fortier et al. 1995;
Grolnick et al. 1991).
The impact of bullying on academics exhibited in our ﬁndings should be worrisome
to school administrators and ofﬁcials. Previous investigations have found a relationship
between being a victim and low achievement scores on standardized tests; however,
the majority of this research has been conducted with school age children (Glew et al.
2005; Nansel et al. 2001; Schwartz et al. 2005; Woods and Wolke 2004). Prior to the
study, little research has explored academic consequences of bullying on the college
student. In our examination, both previous and current victims had signiﬁcantly lower
academic motivation than their peers. Further investigation found current victims of
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196 A. Young-Jones et al.
physical bullying (e.g., hitting, kicking, pushing) or verbal bullying (e.g., name-calling,
teasing) had signiﬁcantly lower academic motivation than their peers.
Both Self-Determination Theory’s basic psychological needs and academic motiva-
tion are vital for a student to perform at his/her highest educational capacity (Ryan and
Deci 2000b). While direct measures of academic success (i.e., grade-point average)
were not included in this evaluation, the predictive power of academic motivation
has been established in previous literature. The reduced motivation experienced by
victims may lead them to struggle with the transition into all aspects of college life,
speciﬁcally with the increased academic rigor required in college-level work (Ryan
and Deci 2000a). These students may ﬁnd it difﬁcult to live next to peers in the dorms
or maintain a full course load. Low academic motivation could potentially lead to
poor academic performance or the decision to drop-out, both of which are concerns
for academic institutions.
5 Future research
The participants for this study were undergraduate students enrolled in the univer-
sity’s Introductory Psychology course. Since students were primarily in their ﬁrst two
years of college, they were coping with the transition from high school and college
when the survey was completed. The Introductory course fulﬁlls one of the univer-
sity’s general education requirements, so students from all majors, not just health and
human services are enrolled. Introductory students were a sufﬁcient sample to gauge
the general college population; however, speciﬁc populations on campus may be at
greater risk for victimization. For example, previous research has shown that lesbian,
gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students face many forms of harassment from
verbal insults and threats to physical and sexual assault (Pilkington and D’Augelli
1995). Additionally, a bullying scandal within the Miami Dolphins has brought ath-
letic bullying to the public’s attention. Special groups within the college environment
(i.e., ethnic minorities, students with disabilities, etc.) may encounter more harassment
than the general college population. In an upcoming phase of this study, these speciﬁc
college populations will be surveyed and compared to the general population in terms
of basic psychological needs, academic motivation, perceived stress, and perceived
It is important to note the present study focuses on the personal and academic
implications of college bullying and not college hazing. Although both hazing and
bullying involve similar acts of aggression, they are not interchangeable terms. Hazing
speciﬁcally refers to harassment inﬂicted on new or potential group members, which
precedes full membership into an organization (Hoover and Pollard 2000; Ostivik and
Rudmin 2001). This differs from bullying, particularly, as hazing implies harassment
will cease upon acceptance into the organization. Victims of bullying are not as lucky;
they continue to be targeted throughout their educational career (Ostivik and Rudmin
2001). Students who report being hazed do identify similar negative symptoms as
those who are bullied including symptoms of depression, low self-esteem, and physical
injury (Hoover and Pollard; Scafer et al. 2004; Sesar et al. 2012). However, additional
research is needed to determine if victims of hazing experience negativity to the same
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Bullying damages more than feelings 197
extent as victims of bullying. Research is also needed to discern whether victims
of hazing face similar academic consequences as victims of bullying. Along with
investigations in the United States, violence impacts schoolchildren around the world.
Rigby and Smith (2011) reviewed 27 different investigations in several countries.
Their ﬁndings indicate the overall prevalence of bullying is decreasing in school age
children; yet, it is much more common than parents and school administrators would
like it to be. Results of the present study suggest an extension of the international
review should include collegians as well. Such studies should assess whether the same
bullying trends and academic consequences appear at international institutions and
are not exclusive to the United States.
One drawback to this study was the use of retrospective self-reports, meaning par-
ticipants had to report on events that occurred in their past. Retrospective methods
can be problematic because participant’s memory for past events can be inaccurately
inﬂuenced or primed by certain words or questions. In general, it can be difﬁcult for
individuals to discern accurate frequencies of past events. Even though using past rec-
ollection is not perfect, it is the best measure for evaluating past bullying incidences;
hence, it is the most common method to assess past bullying experiences (Adams and
Lawrence 2011; Chapell et al. 2006; Newman et al. 2005; Scafer et al. 2004; Sesar et
al. 2012). Chapell et al. (2006), which used an approach similar to this study, noted that
if the majority of participants are college freshman and sophomores their recollections
of high school events should still be relatively clear.
Another limitation of this study was the absence of an operational deﬁnition of
bullying. Some retrospective bullying studies use the Retrospective Bullying Ques-
tionnaire developed by Scafer et al. (2004), which begins with the presentation of a
deﬁnition (Scafer et al. 2004). However, other studies found signiﬁcant results without
the use of a standard deﬁnition, such as Adams and Lawrence (2011) or with an inten-
tionally vague deﬁnition like Newman et al. (2005). To avoid priming, we refrained
from inserting a deﬁnition and instead allowed students to use their personal percep-
tions while answering. It may have been the lack of a consistent deﬁnition that caused
the disagreement in our results where several participants claimed they were victims
of speciﬁc bullying act but did not assert they were victims of bullying in general.
Follow-up research should continue to assess bullying in higher education. Most
importantly, subsequent investigations need to examine the discrepancy that appeared
in students’ assertion to general bullying victimization and speciﬁc bullying victim-
ization. The incongruence may be a result of society’s grave coverage of bullying
and the effects of victimization. Students may downplay their own experiences in an
effort to avoid cognitive dissonance. Additional research should assess bullying and
collegiate achievement by comparing the GPA and class attendance records of bul-
lies, victims, and non-participants. This will solidify the link between victimization,
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198 A. Young-Jones et al.
academic motivation, and subsequent academic outcomes. Also, research focusing
on prevention practices to eliminate bullying will require a review of previous vic-
timization. Our results suggest students who have been victimized before attending
a university experience some of the same struggles as current victims. A successful
intervention model will address the problems s tudents bring to the university as well
as what they are currently facing.
Children and teenagers are not the sole victims of bullying and harassment. Several
studies support the claim that bullying occurs into higher education and adulthood
(Adams and Lawrence 2011; Chapell et al. 2004, 2006; Newman et al. 2005; Scafer
et al. 2004; Sesar et al. 2012) and even within the workplace (Hall and Lewis 2014;
Namie 2003). It has signiﬁcant effects on victims’ daily and academic functioning
as well as their overall psychological wellbeing (Sesar et al.; Adams and Lawrence).
Our evaluation placed an emphasis speciﬁcally on the college student population and
campus setting. It further underlined the importance this issue carries for university
staff, faculty, and administration. Past research suggests high school teachers and staff
underestimate the severity of bullying occurring in their midst (Bradshaw et al. 2007).
We must consider the possibility that university professionals misjudge the extent
of collegiate bullying. Thus, universities should acknowledge bullying as a relevant
concern. In order to make effective campus policies, university leaders must be aware
of the issues young adults are facing; our evaluation provides a clearer understanding
of the harassment present within their own community. This new perspective should
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Adena Young-Jones is an Associate Professor in the Psychology Department at Missouri State Univer-
sity in Springﬁeld, Missouri. She graduated with a Ph.D. in Educational Psychology from Texas A&M
University-Commerce in May 2008 and upon graduation was employed at Missouri State University. Her
research interests include diversity issues and academic motivation, with an emphasis in the combined
impact on student achievement, retention, and success.
Sophie Fursa is currently pursuing her Ph.D. in School Psychology at Central Michigan University
after completing her undergraduate work at Missouri State University in May 2014. She is interested in
researching methods to create favorable learning environments and improve academic and behavioral out-
comes in the classroom.
Jacqueline S. Byrket is a graduate student at Missouri State University in the Experimental Psychology
Program. She has been a student researcher in the Educational Psychology Laboratory since 2011, and
her research interests include reducing undergraduate stress and anxiety to improve the overall academic
experience, enhance student success, and increase university retention.
James S. Sly is a Per-Course Instructor at Missouri State University. He completed his Master’s of Exper-
imental Psychology in 2014 and teaches the Introductory Psychology hybrid class. His research inter-
ests include academic motivation, classroom learning, instructional design/technology, and online/blended
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