Do other people's plights matter? A genetically informed twin study of the role of social context in the link between peer victimization and children's aggression and depression symptoms.

Dev Psychol 2013 Feb 3;49(2):327-40. Epub 2011 Oct 3.

Department of Psychology, University of Quebec at Montreal,Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

Using a genetically informed design, this study examined the additive and interactive effects of genetic risk, personal peer victimization experiences, and peer victimization experienced by others on children's aggression and depression symptoms. Of major interest was whether these effects varied depending on whether or not the victimized others were children's close friends. The sample comprised 197 monozygotic and same-sex dizygotic twin pairs reared together (95 female pairs) assessed in Grade 4. Each twin's victimization experiences and victimization experienced by his or her friends and other classmates were measured using individuals' reports about their own levels of peer victimization. Aggression was assessed using peer nominations, and depression was measured using self-reports. Indicative of a possible social-learning mechanism or the emotional contagion of anger, multilevel regressions showed that personal victimization experiences were related to especially high levels of aggression when close friends where also highly victimized, albeit only in boys. Moreover, in line with social comparison theory, the effect of frequent personal victimization experiences on depressive feelings was much weaker when close friends were also highly victimized than when close friends were not or were only rarely victimized. Finally, a high level of peer victimization experienced by other classmates was related to a lower level of aggression in girls and boys, possibly because of a heightened sense of threat in classrooms where many suffer attacks from bullies. All of these results were independent of children's genetic risk for aggression or depression. Theoretical and practical implications are discussed.

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http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/a0025665DOI Listing
February 2013
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