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Matt DeLisi, Sociology/Criminal Justice Studies, (515) 294-8008, delisi@iastate.edu
Nick Van Berkum, Sociology, (515) 294-2179, nvanberk@iastate.edu
Steve Jones, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, (515) 294-0461, jones@iastate.edu
Mike Ferlazzo, News Service, (515) 294-8986, Ferlazzo@iastate.edu

ISU sociologist ties childhood bullying traits to adult anti-social behavior


AMES, Iowa – Is an adult with a history of childhood bullying more likely to be homeless, a compulsive liar, or someone who scams another person out of money?  According to a study collaborated on by an Iowa State University sociologist, the numbers indicate just that.

Matt DeLisi, an ISU associate professor of sociology and director of the criminal justice program, was part of a research team that examined the psychiatric correlates of bullying behavior in the United States.  Data for this study was derived from the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions. Six percent of 43,093 adults sampled indicated a history of bullying others.

“Within this large data file there are a lot of behavioral measures.  This study looks at those who had a history of bullying and compared to those who do not.  It is very simple.  This study shows that bullies are more antisocial.  They’re engaged  in  problem behaviors that  over  time,  add up.” Delisi said.

DeLisi was one of seven scholars who collaborated on the study, which was led by Michael Vaughn from the School of Social Work at Saint Louis University. Their study “Psychiatric Correlates of Bullying in the United States: Findings from a National Sample,” was published in the September 2010 Psychiatric Quarterly.)  The study compares a number of different kinds of antisocial behaviors with adults who had a history of bullying and those who did not have a history of bullying.

According to the study, adults with a history of bullying were  10 times more likely to lie than those with no bullying history. They were also six times more likely to get in a fight and two-and-a-half times more likely to harass or threaten someone than those with no bullying history.

The study also indicates conduct disorder as a childhood precursor of adult anti-social behavior.

“When you look at the odds and ratio differences in people who bully and those who did not bully, conduct disorder has the largest effect.  Bullies are  11 times more likely to have had conduct disorder than non bullies. That giant fact shows you that bullies are antisocial anyway.  When you get into personality disorders, you’ll see that in anti-social personalities there is almost an eight times difference.” DeLisi said.

DeLisi sees these numbers as showing children with these traits are more likely to commit more serious crimes in the future.

“They are six times more likely to get into fights they started and they are more likely to get into a fight with a family member or spouse," he said. "So when you start to look at some of these items where there are significant differences, what you are seeing are aggression violence behaviors, and when you couple that with the psychiatric diagnosis that they are demonstrating, you get a clear idea that these people have problems.”

With these findings and numbers, DeLisi and his team try to explain why children with anti-social behavioral traits tend to hang around others with the same traits.

“Because bullies are so aggressive, they are viewed by peers to be so difficult to deal with, so they are rejected," DeLisi said. "Peer rejection occurs in early elementary school.  These are also kids who are likely suspended in elementary, middle, or high school.  They are sort of trapped, in a way, because of their aggression behavior and their ostracism they get trapped out of a normal childhood.  This sets into motion the social circle of who is going to hang out with a highly aggressive bully.  The answer is they will hang out with other kids with similar traits.”

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Department of Sociology, Iowa State University, Ames, IA, 50011, Ph. (515) 294.6480, sociology@iastate.edu