Society increasingly recognizes bullying as a significant problem, and faculty and students in the Psychology Department are researching why it occurs, with the aim of developing effective prevention and intervention programs.

“Bullying is widespread and damaging to both the victims and the perpetrators,” says Professor and Psychology Department┬áChair Gary Fireman, who has been leading research efforts in this area for 10 years. “Some youth are bullied repeatedly across multiple grades, which is particularly disheartening.”

Research shows that about 20-percent of U.S. high school students report having been bullied within the previous 12 months. It is a serious public health concern, according to Fireman, as victims of bullying are at increased risk for emotional problems such as depression and anxiety; suicide; poor school performance; and increased physical health issues.

“I believe that eventually bullying impacts all people from all walks of life,” says Fireman. “Either as a bully, victim, or bystander, we all have some personal experience of bullying.”

Fireman and his team of graduate and undergraduate students collect data by studying behavior in Greater Boston and upstate New York school districts.

Their areas of focus include:

  • School transitions—elementary to middle, middle to high school, high school to college—as a risk factor for bullying
  • The impact of and response to traditional bullying compared to the electronic bullying that occurs through texting and online and social media
  • How bystanders respond to bullying, specifically the relational bullying of social exclusion

“There is something incomparably exciting about the generation of data and contributing to the body of scientific knowledge,” says graduate student Daniel Glass, who aspires to teach and conduct research at the college level. “Thus far, our research program has opened me up to the realities of data collection in the field of psychology—both the challenges and opportunities, and how to best handle them.”

Graduate student Yvonne Asher finds value in working “to understand the mechanisms behind bullying, like what functions it may serve and why it continues to happen, and what implications bullying has for perpetrators and victims. We study a phenomenon that impacts the lives of children and teenagers on a day-to-day basis.”

Asher, who is considering a career as a school-based clinical psychologist, said that “understanding that phenomenon on a deep level will be beneficial when working with children and adolescents.”