Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science


Human Genetics

First Advisor

Judy Silberg, Ph.D


Introduction—Bullying involvement is associated with many long-term adverse outcomes. Bullied children are at risk for internalizing disorders including anxiety, depression and suicidal behavior in childhood and adulthood. Bullies are also at risk for psychiatric disorders, specifically externalizing disorders. Bully victims—children who are both bullied and bullies—have a particularly poor prognosis, with a higher risk for internalizing and externalizing disorders. The purpose of this study is to study the epidemiology, risk of psychiatric disorders, and genetic and environmental influences of being bullied, a bully, and a bully victim—in the sample and individually in males and females.

Methods—Twins (N=2,844, aged 8-17) from the Virginia Twin Study of Adolescent Behavioral Development and the Young Adult Follow-Up were used to study bullying involvement. Child and mother responses from three waves of data collection were used to determine bullying involvement status and to diagnose internalizing and externalizing disorders. The epidemiology of bullying involvement was examined. The odds ratios (OR) of being involved in bullying and having a psychiatric disorder were calculated. The twin methodology was used to estimate the genetic and environmental influences of bullying involvement.

Results—In the sample, 14.56% were bullied, 17.33% were bullies, and 10.69% were bully victims. Males are more often involved in bullying, but females are more severely affected by their involvement. Bullied children are at a higher risk for internalizing disorders, especially young adult depression (OR 1.29). Bullies are at a higher risk for externalizing disorders, and depression (OR 1.72). Bully victims are at a higher risk for nearly every disorder tested. Bullying involvement is heritable, and being bullied has a dominance genetic component. The heritability of being bullied, a bully, and a bully victim is 48.12%, 54.81%, and 62.62% respectively.

Conclusion—Individuals involved in bullying are at risk for serious and long-lasting psychiatric disorders. Interventions need to be developed that target each category of bullying involvement, and the specific disorders that these children are at risk for, while keeping in mind that their involvement is heritable.


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