I-O Outside I-O: A Quarterly Review of Relevant Research From Other Disciplines
Mark Alan Smith, CEB Talent Assessment, and Alex Alonso, Society for Human Resource Management
Over the last few years, increased awareness and concern over aggression and bullying in school children have spurred efforts to develop effective prevention programs for these behaviors. Although these behaviors in children have been going on for many years, objective research on the incidence and prevention of it is relatively recent. Part of the difficulty with research on the subject is that childhood aggression and bullying is common only in a broad sense, but it is not something that everyone experiences—either as the aggressor or the victim (thank goodness!). Even though this topic of bullying focuses on children, there are important learnings for I-O psychology in both the methods of research and in the findings. After all, we were all once children, and though we age, it is debatable how much the behavior patterns of many adults actually mature and improve.
Branson, C., & Cornell, D. (2009).
A comparison of self and peer reports in the assessment of middle school bullying.
Journal of Applied School Psychology, 25, 5-27. doi:10.1080/15377900802484133
In this article, the researchers looked at the effectiveness of antibullying programs in schools. Typically, this type of research has used student self-reports of bullying, as opposed to other reports or multiple methods, to measure bullying and victimization. Obviously, self-reports are more straightforward and cost effective for researchers, although the question of accuracy has remained to be seen.
Participants were students at a suburban middle school (grades 6 to 8) in central Virginia; a total of 355 students participated in the study. They completed the School Climate Bullying Survey, a 43-item self-report measure that included questions about bullying involvement, attitudes toward bullying, and school climate.
As part of the survey, students were provided with a standard definition of bullying, and then they reported the number of times they have bullied others or been victimized as the target of bullies in the past month. The final section of the survey also solicited peer nominations for victims of bullying, as well as bullies. Other variables measured via survey were: school climate, attitudes toward aggression, teacher tolerance, depression, and disciplinary school records.
Self-reported bullying correlated rather weakly (r = .18; p < .01) with peer nominations, whereas self-reported victimization correlated somewhat more strongly with peer nominations for victimization (r = .32; p < .01). Results showed that more than twice as many students were categorized as bullies using peer nomination (11%) as compared to self-report (5%).
Despite the limited agreement between sources of bullying information, both self- and peer-reported bullying/victimization were associated with depression and weakly associated with low GPA. In addition, regression analyses showed that both measures provided unique predictive value for depression and low GPA. These results raise concern about the reliance on self or peer reports alone to assess the prevalence of middle school bullying and suggest that both methods have merit.
Thoughts From an I-O Perspective
In our opinion, there are a couple of main takeaways from this research for our field. The first is that many of the measurement issues that plague the study of important issues in I-O also exist in other field in the social sciences. Low base rate events are hard to predict and hard to study. Although it is good that the majority of students report no involvement in bullying, it makes the research difficult to conduct. Also, different ways of measuring of the same topic lead to different results and conclusions. Although this study seemed to indicate that both self-reports and other reports have some merit and validity, this does continue to remind researchers that simple and easy data collection efforts are not always the best way of conducting research.
Ladd, G. W., Ettekal, I., & Kockenderfer-Ladd, B. (2017).
Peer victimization trajectories from kindergarten through high school:
Differential pathways for children’s school engagement and achievement?
Journal of Educational Psychology, 109, 826-841. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/edu0000177
In this recent article, the researchers sought to map frequency and patterns in school-based peer victimization throughout children in Grades K–12. They also looked to determine whether specific patterns of peer victimization were associated with children’s academic performance.
This longitudinal research following 383 students from kindergarten to 12th grade. They examined the relationship between peer victimization prevalence and key student performance outcomes like achievement, math performance, and reading performance. They also examined the relationship between peer victimization and social learning-related attitudes including perceived self-competence and academic competence perceived by parents and educators.
Results indicate a pronounced correlation between peer victimization prevalence and reduced performance in both math and reading. Perhaps more interestingly, the researchers also found that the impact of peer victimization prevalence increases over time with perceived academic competence decreasing the longer high-severity victims of peer bullying are exposed to unchanged conditions.
Thoughts From an I-O Perspective
In our opinion, there are a couple of main takeaways from this research for our field. Although the findings of Ladd et al.’s work seem fairly intuitive, they also provide insight into two phenomena we encounter in the organizational setting: workplace bullying and micro-aggression. As a profession, we
have exhausted countless resources investigating the cost of failed leadership. When we consider the pronounced impact of prolonged peer victimization on student perceived competence and performance, we see there are potential applications for the work world. For example, consider for a moment what leaders are to do when resolving workplace bullying or employee relations issues. If we look at the lessons learned from Ladd et al., we can glean that there is an impact of peer victimization on school engagement as well. In each case, the research suggests that prolonged exposure leads to diminished skill building and performance. That is in the formative stages of life; imagine the multiplicative impact if one has experienced this in schooling and then encounters more in the workplace as an adult. The lessons applicable to our field are valuable and also provide an insight into the nature of developmental issues as they relate to entry into the workforce.