Effects of Bullying on the Behavioral/Emotional Problems of British Twins: Family Warmth and Home Atmosphere Promote Resilience

Research on bullying has revealed high prevalence rates and adverse consequences in many countries. However, less is known about protective factors that might reduce adverse effects of bullying on children’s behavioral and emotional problems. To test effects of bullying and of protective factors, Bowes et al. (2010) assessed 1,116 twin pairs with the CBCL and TRF at ages 5, 10, and 12. The twins’ experiences of being bullied during primary school were assessed in separate home interviews with the twins and their mothers. Maternal warmth toward each twin and each twin’s warmth toward their co-twin were assessed in interviews with the mothers. Home atmosphere was assessed via interviewers’ observations of variables such as cleanliness, stimulation, displays of the children’s art, happiness, and excessive noise. Children who were bullied in primary school obtained higher CBCL/TRF problem scores at ages 10-12 than children who had not been bullied, after controlling for age 5 problem scores.

However, bullied children had lower age 10-12 problem scores if they had experienced high maternal warmth, sibling warmth, and positive home atmosphere than if they had not, even after controlling for gender, IQ, and SES. To control for the possibility that the protective factors might reflect genetic influences, Bowes et al. then analyzed differences between scores for maternal warmth toward each co-twin in monozgyotic twin pairs. After thus controlling for genetic differences between co-twins, Bowes et al. still found a significant protective effect of maternal warmth on emotional (i.e., Internalizing) problems but not on behavioral (i.e., Externalizing) problems, as assessed with the CBCL and TRF.

Reference: Bowes, L., Maughan, B., Caspi, A., Moffitt, T.E., & Arseneault, L. (2010). Families promote emotional and behavioural resilience to bullying: Evidence of an environmental effect. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 51, 809-817.