PEER HARASSMENT IN MIDDLE SCHOOL: WHEN SELF-VIEWS AND PEER VIEWS DIVERGE
 
Graham, S., University of California - Los Angeles and Taylor, A.Z., University of Southern California, USA
 
In most research, victims of peer harassment are identified using either self- or peer reports. Self-reports reflect the subjective experience of feeling like a victim and are prone to biases (e.g., underestimating, overestimating) associated with that procedure. Peer reports are reputational measures that are based on interpretations of observed behavior and therefore are subject to biases associated with making inferences about others. Not surprisingly, peer and self-reports of victimization often do not correlate very highly. Using data from a study of peer harassment in middle school (n = 1200), we identified subgroups of 6th grade victims where peer and self-views were both inconsistent and consistent. One group (paranoids) were high in self-perceived victimization, but were not judged as such by their peers. A second group (deniers) did not perceive themselves as victims but had such reputations based on peer reports. We compared the above two groups to "true" victims, where there was agreement between self and peer views, and to nonvictims. We found that paranoids report as much loneliness and depression as do true victims, but they are not rejected by their peers . Deniers, on the other hand, are just as rejected as true victims, but their self-views are positive. These are important distinctions because most harassment studies describe a cluster of adjustment difficulties - including loneliness, depression, and peer rejection - without considering whether particular adjustment problems might have different antecedents. Distinguishing victims for whom self- and peer-perceptions diverge has implications for intervention. If identification procedures rely primarily on peer reports, then victims who feel vulnerable (i.e., paranoids) might unintentionally be excluded. Similarly, relying solely on self-reports may ignore youth whose reputation as a victim has led them to be rejected by their peers (i.e., deniers). Our findings therefore underscore the need for further refinements in the methods for identifying victims and for focused interventions strategies that address specific adjustment difficulties of particular types of victims of peer harassment.