CNN coverage focuses on Professors Bob Faris and Diane Felmlee's research on bullying
Bob and Diane's study is based on a paper published in the American Sociological Review showing that adolescents’ aggressive behavior is strongly related to their position in their school’s social hierarchy. That study used data on the web of friendships among schoolmates in three counties in North Carolina. CNN’S Anderson Cooper 360° sought to both replicate their original study and raise new questions about bullying and harassment. Bob and Diane found a school that was quite different from the ones in the original study: the Wheatley School, on Long Island, is small (less than 800 students), includes 8th graders, and is located in an affluent community on Long Island. The core part of the study involved collecting social network data from the students at Wheatley.
Their analysis found that 42% of Wheatley students had harassed one or more schoolmates, while 31% were harassed by a peer. Instead of kids falling into stable roles of bully and victim, involvement in aggression fluctuated from week to week, and a sizable number (17%) of students were both aggressive and victimized. Aggression was most commonly verbal (verbal abuse, threats) or “indirect” (spreading rumors, ostracism, manipulation), and only 10% of incidents involved physical violence. Girls and boys were equally aggressive, but in slightly different ways, with girls somewhat less likely to use “direct” forms (verbal harassment or physical violence) and somewhat more likely to spread rumors and ostracize. Girls, however, were more likely to be victimized than boys. Aggression tended to stay within gender, racial, and grade lines. Peer status (centrality in the school social network) increased the likelihood of both aggression and victimization—until kids reached the pinnacle of the hierarchy, when they became less involved. Aggression spreads through the social network, as kids adopt aggressive behaviors from their friends. Most (80%) aggressive incidents are not reported to adults, primarily because kids do not feel like adults will be helpful. In the majority (77%) of aggressive incidents, peer bystanders did not intervene, though ultimately 43% of students were named as having intervened at least once.
Video Links, including one of Bob discussing solutions with Anderson Cooper and a taped segment summarizing the research are included in the article.