Development and Psychopathology

Regular Articles

Chronic bullying victimization across school transitions: The role of genetic and environmental influences

Lucy Bowesa1, Barbara Maughana1, Harriet Balla1, Sania Shakoora1, Isabelle Ouellet-Morina1, Avshalom Caspia1a2, Terrie E. Moffitta1a2 and Louise Arseneaulta1 c1

a1 King's College London

a2 Duke University


We investigated the antecedents and consequences of chronic victimization by bullies across a school transition using a genetically sensitive longitudinal design. Data were from the Environmental Risk Longitudinal Twin Study (E-Risk), an epidemiological cohort of 2,232 children. We used mothers' and children's reports of bullying victimization during primary school and early secondary school. Children who experienced frequent victimization at both time points were classed as “chronic victims” and were found to have an increased risk for mental health problems and academic difficulties compared to children who were bullied only in primary school, children bullied for the first time in secondary school, and never-bullied children. Biometric analyses revealed that stability in victimization over this period was influenced primarily by genetic and shared environmental factors. Regression analyses showed that children's early characteristics such as preexistent adjustment difficulties and IQ predicted chronic versus transitory victimization. Family risk factors for chronic victimization included socioeconomic disadvantage, low maternal warmth, and maltreatment. Our results suggest that bullying intervention programs should consider the role of the victims' behaviors and family background in increasing vulnerability to chronic victimization. Our study highlights the importance of widening antibullying interventions to include families to reduce the likelihood of children entering a pathway toward chronic victimization.


c1 Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Louise Arseneault, MRC Social, Genetic, and Developmental Psychiatry Centre, Institute of Psychiatry, London SE5 8AF, UK; E-mail:


  The Environmental Risk Longitudinal Twin Study (E-Risk) is funded by the Medical Research Council (MRC Grants G9806489 and 61002190). Additional support was provided by funds from the Economic and Social Research Council (RES-177-25-0013), the NICHD (HD061298), the British Academy, the Johan Jacobs Foundation, and the Nuffield Foundation. Lucy Bowes is supported by the Economic and Social Research Council. Sania Shakoor is supported by the Medical Research Council. Isabelle Ouellet-Morin is supported by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. Barbara Maughan is supported by the Medical Research Council. Harriet Ball is supported by the Foulkes Foundation. Avshalom Caspi is a Royal Society Wolfson Research Merit Award holder. We are grateful to the study mothers and fathers, the twins, and the twins' teachers for their participation. Our thanks to Michael Rutter and Robert Plomin; to Thomas Achenbach for kind permission to adapt the Child Behavior Checklist; and to members of the E-Risk Study team for their dedication, hard work, and insights.