November 7-11, 2009

American Public Health Association Annual Meeting

Philadelphia, PA

Misperceptions of Bullying Norms as a Risk Factor Associated with Violence among Middle School Students


H. Wesley Perkins, Ph.D., Dept. of Anthropology and Sociology
David W. Craig, Ph.D., Dept. of Chemistry
Hobart & William Smith Colleges

Jessica Perkins, M.S., Department of Health Policy
Harvard University


Bullying among adolescents in many countries is a significant school and public health concern. Erroneous perceptions of bullying norms may be important risk factors for being a bully, victim, or bully/victim. Anonymous online surveys were conducted to assess the accuracy of perceived peer bullying norms among youth in 20 middle schools (grades 6 to 8) from 2006 to 2008 in New Jersey and New York (n= 10,728). The survey reveals attitudes about bullying, incidence levels of bullying behavior as reported by perpetrators and victims, and also assesses perceived norms among peers regarding these attitudes and bullying behaviors. Results from the analyses of eight types of bullying behavior show that while bullying is substantial, it is not the norm. The most common (and erroneous) perception, however, is that the majority engage in and support such behavior. Multilevel analysis reveals that perceptions of bullying behaviors are highly predictive of personal bullying behaviorómore so than actual school norms. Pervasive misperceptions of bullying may contribute to engagement in bullying and help perpetuate victimization.