Consequences of Bullying in Childhood, Adolescence, and Adulthood: An Ecological Perspective

  • Paul R. Smokowski
  • Caroline B. R. Evans


The negative consequences of bullying victimization extend across victims’ entire ecology. In the current chapter, the third iteration of Bronfenbrenner’s ecological systems theory, the Process–Person–Context–Time (PPCT) model, is modified slightly (i.e., to Person–Process–Context–Time) and used to organize and understand the consequences associated with bullying involvement. Person refers to individual characteristics that impact development and the current chapter discusses the individual mental health and neurobiological impacts of victimization. Process refers to social interactions that impact development and the current discussion of bullying victimization highlights the negative peer relationships and social interactions experienced by victims. Context refers to the surrounding environment that impacts development; given that bullying commonly occurs in the school context victims often dislike school and the negative impact of bullying on the school context is discussed. Time refers to the ongoing process of development and the current chapter discusses cumulative victimization that is ongoing over time as well as the longitudinal impacts of bullying victimization.


Peer relationships Mental health Neurobiology Cumulative bullying 


  1. Aluede, O., Adeleke, F., Omoike, D., & Afen-Akpaida, J. (2008). A review of the extent, nature, characteristics, and effects of bullying behaviour in schools. Journal of Instructional Psychology, 35, 151–158.Google Scholar
  2. American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. American Psychological Association. (2017). Stress effects on the body. Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved from Scholar
  4. Atlas, R. S., & Pepler, D. J. (1998). Observations of bullying in the classroom. Journal of Educational Research, 92(2), 86–99.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bagwell, C. L., & Coie, J. D. (2004). The best friendships of aggressive boys: Relationship quality, conflict management, and rule-breaking behavior. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 88, 5–24.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bagwell, C. L., & Schmidt, M. E. (2011). Friendships in childhood and adolescence. New York, NY: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  7. Baldry, A. C. (2003). Bullying in schools and exposure to domestic violence. Child Abuse & Neglect, 27, 713–732.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Bauer, N. S., Herrenkohl, T. I., Lozano, P., Rivara, F. P., Hill, K. G., & Hawkins, D. (2006). Childhood bullying involvement and exposure to intimate partner violence. Pediatrics, 118(2), e235–e242.PubMedPubMedCentralCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Benedict, F. T., Vivier, P. M., & Gjelsvik, A. (2015). Mental health and bullying in the United States among children aged 6 to 17 years. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 30(5), 782–795.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Bierman, K. L. (2004). Peer rejection: Developmental processes and intervention strategies. New York, NY: Guilford.Google Scholar
  11. Blood, G. W., & Blood, I. M. (2016). Long-term consequences of childhood bullying in adults who stutter: Social anxiety, fear of negative evaluation, self-esteem, and satisfaction with life. Journal of Fluency Disorders, 50, 72–84.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Bronfenbrenner, U. (1979). The ecology of human development: Experiments by nature and design. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  13. Bronfenbrenner, U. (1994). Ecological models of human development. In International encyclopedia of education (Vol. 3, 2nd ed.). Oxford: Elsevier. Reprinted in M. Guavain, & M. Cole (Eds.), Readings on the development of children (2nd edn.; pp. 37–43). New York, NY: Freeman.Google Scholar
  14. Bronfenbrenner, U. (2005). Making human beings human. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  15. Bronfenbrenner, U., & Morris, P. A. (2006). The bioecological model of human development. In W. Damon (Series Ed.) & R. M. Lerner (Vol. Ed.), Handbook of child psychology: Theoretical models of human development (pp. 793–828). New York, NY: Wiley.Google Scholar
  16. Calem, M., Bromis, K., McGuire, P., Morgan, C., & Kempton, M. J. (2017). Meta-analysis of associations between childhood adversity and hippocampus and amygdala volumes in non-clinical and general population samples. Neuroimage: Clinical, 14, 471–479.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Carlson, N. R. (2002). Foundations of physiological psychology (5th ed.). Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon.Google Scholar
  18. Chaney, A., Carballedo, A., Amico, F., Fagan, A., Skokauskas, N., Meaney, J., & Frodl, T. (2014). Effect of childhood maltreatment on brain structure in adult patients with major depressive disorder and healthy participants. Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience, 39(1), 50–59.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Cillessen, A. H. N., & Mayeux, L. (2004). From censure to reinforcement: Developmental changes in the association between aggression and social status. Child Development, 75(1), 147–163.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Crick, N. R., & Dodge, K. A. (1994). A review of reformulation of social information-processing mechanisms in children’s social adjustment. Psychological Bulletin, 115(1), 74–101.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Cunningham, N. J. (2007). Level of bonding to school and perception of the school environment by bullies, victims, and bully victims. The Journal of Early Adolescence, 27, 457–478.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. D’Andrea, W., Ford, J., Stolbach, B., Spinazzola, J., & van der Kolk, B. A. (2012). Understanding interpersonal trauma in children: Why we need a developmental appropriate trauma diagnosis. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 82, 187–200.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Demaray, M. K., & Malecki, C. K. (2003). Perceptions of the frequency and importance of social support by students classified as victims, bullies, and bully/victims in an urban middle school. School Psychology Review, 32(3), 471–489.Google Scholar
  24. Dulmus, C. N., Sowers, K. M., & Theriot, M. T. (2006). Prevalence and bullying experiences of victims and victims who become bullies (bully-victims) at rural schools. Victims and Offenders, 1(15), 15–31.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Eisenberger, N. I. (2012). The pain of social disconnection: Examining the shared neural underpinnings of physical and social pain. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 13, 421–434.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Evans, C. B. R., & Smokowski, P. R. (2016). Theoretical explanations for bullying in school: How ecological processes propagate perpetration and victimization. Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal, 33(4), 365–375.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Evans, C. B. R., Smokowski, P. R., Rose, R., Mercado, M. C., & Marshall, K. (2018). Cumulative bullying experiences, adolescent behavioral and mental health, and academic achievement: An integrative model of perpetration, victimization, and bystander behavior. Journal of Child and Family Studies., 27, 1–14.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Evans, C. B. R., Smokwoski, P. R., & Cotter, K. L. (2014). Cumulative bullying victimization: An investigation of the dose-response relationship between victimization and the associated mental health outcomes, social supports, and school experiences of rural adolescents. Children and Youth Services Review, 44, 256–264.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Evans-Lacko, S., Takizawa, R., Brimblecombe, N., King, D., Knapp, M., Maughan, B., & Arsenault, L. (2017). Childhood bullying victimization is associated with use of mental health services over five decades: A longitudinal nationally representative cohort study. Psychological Medicine, 47, 127–135.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Freer, B. D., Whitt-Woosley, A., & Sprang, G. (2010). Narrative coherence and the trauma experience: An exploratory mixed-methods analysis. Violence and Victims, 25(6), 742–754.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Furlong, M. J., Chung, L. A., Bates, M., & Morrison, R. L. (1995). Who are the victims of school violence? A comparison of student non-victims and multi-victims. Education & Treatment of Children, 18(3), 282–298.Google Scholar
  32. Gini, G. (2008). Associations between bullying behavior, psychosomatic complaints, emotional and behavioral problems. Journal of Pediatrics and Child Health, 44, 492–497.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Gladstone, G. L., Parker, G. B., & Malhi, G. S. (2006). Do bullied children become anxious and depressed adults? A cross-sectional investigation of the correlates of bullying and anxious depression. The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 194(3), 201–208.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Glew, G., Fan, M., Katon, W., Rivara, F. P., & Kernic, M. A. (2005). Bullying, psychosocial adjustment, and academic performance in elementary school. Archives of Pediatric Adolescence, 159, 1026–1031.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Gorka, A. X., Hanson, J. L., Radtke, S. R., & Hariri, A. R. (2014). Reduced hippocampal and medial prefrontal gray matter mediate the association between reported childhood maltreatment and trait anxiety in adulthood and predict sensitivity to future life stress. Biology of Mood Anxiety Disorders, 4, 1–10.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Hanson, J. L., Nacewicz, B. M., Sutterer, M. J., Cayo, A. A., Schaefer, S. M., Rudolph, K. D., … Davidson, R. J. (2015). Behavioral problems after early life stress: Contributions of the hippocampus and amygdala. Biological Psychiatry, 77, 314–323.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Harel-Fisch, Y., Walsh, S. D., Fogel-Grinvald, H., Amitai, G., Picket, W., Molcho, M., … Members of the HBSC Violence and Injury Prevention Focus Group. (2011). Negative school perceptions and involvement in school bullying: A universal relationship across 40 countries. Journal of Adolescence, 34, 639–652.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Hawkins, D. L., Pepler, D. J., & Craig, W. M. (2001). Naturalistic observations of peer interventions in bullying. Social Development, 10(4), 512–527.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Holt, M., Finkelhor, D., & Kaufman Kantor, K. (2007). Hidden victimization in bullying assessment. School Psychology Review, 36, 345–360.Google Scholar
  40. Holt, M. K., & Espelage, D. L. (2007). Perceived social support among bullies, victims, and bully-victims. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 36, 984–994.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Juvonen, J., Graham, S., & Schuster, M. A. (2003). Bullying among young adolescents: The strong, the weak, and the troubled. Pediatrics, 112, 1231–1237.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Kaltiala-Heino, R., Rimpela, M., Marttunen, M., Rimplea, A., & Rantanen, P. (1999). Bullying, depression, and suicidal ideation in Finnish adolescents: School survey. British Journal of Medicine, 319, 348–351.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Karatzias, A., Power, K. G., & Swanson, V. (2002). Bullying and victimization in Scottish secondary schools: Same or separate entities? Aggressive Behavior, 28, 45–61.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Kelleher, I., Keeley, H., Corcoran, P., Ramsay, H., Wasserman, C., Carli, V., … Cannon, M. (2013). Childhood trauma and psychosis in a prospective cohort study: Cause, effect, and directionality. The American Journal of Psychiatry, 170(7), 734–741.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Kirschbaum, C., & Hellhammer, D. H. (1989). Salivary cortisol in psychobiological research: An overview. Neuropsychobiology, 22, 150–169.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Knack, J. M., Jensen-Campbell, L. A., & Baum, A. (2011). Worse than sticks and stones? Bullying is associated with altered HPA axis functioning and poorer health. Brain and Cognition, 77(2), 183–190.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Kvarme, L. G., Helseth, S., Saeteren, B., & Natvig, G. K. (2010). School children’s experience of being bullied-and how they envisage their dream day. Scandinavian Journal of Caring Sciences, 24, 791–798.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Lester, L., Cross, D., & Shaw, T. (2012). Problem behaviors, traditional bullying and cyberbullying among adolescents: Longitudinal analysis. Emotional and Behavioral Difficulties, 17(3-4), 435–447.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Lin, N. (2001). Social capital: A Theory of social structure and action. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Lin, N., Cook, K., & Burt, R. S. (2001). Social capital: Theory and research. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Lupien, S. J., Fiocco, A., Wan, N., Maheu, F., Lord, C., Schramek, T., & Tu, M. T. (2005). Stress hormones and human memory function across the lifespan. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 30, 225–242.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Mayo Clinic. (2016). Stress management: Chronic stress pubs your health at risk. Rochester, MN: Author. Retrieved from Scholar
  53. McFarlane, A. C., & de Girolamo, G. (1996). The nature of traumatic stressors and the epidemiology of posttraumatic reactions. In B. A. van der Kolk, A. C. McFarlane, & L. Weisaeth (Eds.), Traumatic stress: The effects of overwhelming experience on mind, body, and society (pp. 129–154). New York, NY: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  54. Meltzer, H., Vostanis, P., Ford, T., Bebbington, P., & Dennis, M. S. (2011). Victims of bullying in childhood and suicide in adulthood. European Psychiatry, 26, 498–503.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Menesini, E., Modena, M., & Tani, F. (2009). Bullying and victimization in adolescence: Concurrent and stable roles and psychological health symptoms. Journal of Genetic Psychology, 170(2), 115–133.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Miller, G. E., Chen, E., & Zhou, E. S. (2007). If it goes up, must it come down? Chronic stress and the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical axis in humans. Psychological Bulletin, 133, 25–45.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Nation, M., Vieno, A., Perkins, D. D., & Santinello, M. (2008). Bullying in school and adolescent sense of empowerment: An analysis of relationships with parents, friends, and teachers. Journal of Community & Applied Social Psychology, 18(3), 211–232.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. National Institute of Mental Health. (n.d.). Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Bethesda, MD: Author. Retrieved from
  59. Natvig, G. K., Albreksten, G., & Qvarnstrom, U. (2001). Psychosomatic symptoms among victims of school bullying. Journal of Health Psychology, 6, 365–377.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Nazir, T., & Piskin, M. (2015). School bullying: Effecting child’s mental health. The International Journal of Indian Psychology, 2(4), 130–135.Google Scholar
  61. Ouellet-Morin, I., Danese, A., Bowes, L., Shakoor, S., Ambler, A., Pariante, C. M., … Arseneault, L. (2011). A discordant monozygotic twin design shows blunted cortisol reactivity among bullied children. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 50(6), 574–582.PubMedPubMedCentralCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Ouellet-Morin, I., Odgers, C. L., Danese, A., Bowes, L., Shakoor, S., Papadopoulos, A. S., … Arseneault, L. (2011). Blunted cortisol responses to stress signal social and behavioral problems among maltreated/bullied 12-year-old children. Biological Psychiatry, 70, 1016–1023.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Pellegrini, A. D., Bartini, M., & Brooks, F. (1999). School bullies, victims, and aggressive victims: Factors relating to group affiliation and victimization in early adolescence. Journal of Educational Psychology, 91(2), 216–224.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Peterson, C., Maier, S. F., & Seligman, M. (1995). Learned helpless: A Theory for the age of personal control. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  65. Pollastri, A. R., Cardemil, E. V., & O’Donnell, E. H. (2009). Self-esteem in pure bullies and bully/victims: A longitudinal analysis. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 25, 1489–1502.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Prinstein, M. J., & Cillessen, A. H. N. (2003). Forms and functions of adolescent peer aggression associated with high levels of peer status. Merrill-Palmer Quarterly, 49(3), 310–342.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Putnam, R. D. (2000). Bowling alone: The collapse and revival of American community. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.Google Scholar
  68. Rosa, E. M., & Tudge, J. (2013). Urie Bronfenbrenners’s theory of human development: Its evolution from ecology to bioecology. Journal of Family Theory & Review, 5(4), 243–258.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Salmivalli, C., Lappalainen, M., & Lagerspetz, K. M. J. (1998). Stability of change behavior in connection to bullying in schools: A two-year follow-up. Aggressive Behavior, 24, 205–218.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Scholte, R. H. J., Overbeek, G., ten Brink, G., Rommes, E., de Kemp, R. A. T., Goossens, L., & Engles, R. C. M. E. (2008). The significance of reciprocal and unilateral friendships for peer victimization in adolescence. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 89, 89–100.Google Scholar
  71. Sebastian, C. L., Tan, G. C. Y., Roiser, J. P., Viding, E., Dumontheil, I., & Blakemore, S. (2011). Developmental influences on the neural bases of responses to social rejection: Implications of social neuroscience for education. Neuroimage, 51(3), 686–694.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Shapiro, E. (March 4 2016). The history behind the Donald Trump ‘Small Hands’ insult. ABC News Retrived from
  73. Simmons, R. (2002). Odd girl out. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing.Google Scholar
  74. Tchalova, K., & Eisenberger, N. I. (2017). The shared neural substrates of physical and social pain. In K. D. Williams (Ed.), Ostracism, exclusion, and rejection (pp. 61–80). New York, NY: Taylor & Francis.Google Scholar
  75. Teicher, M. H., & Samson, J. A. (2016). Annual research review: Enduring neurobiological effects of childhood abuse and neglect. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 57(3), 241–266.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Totura, C. M. W., Mackinnon-Lewis, C., Gesten, E. L., Gadd, R., Divine, K. P., Dunham, S., & Kamboukos, D. (2009). Bullying and victimization among boys and girls in middle school: The influence of perceived family and school contexts. Journal of Early Adolescence, 29, 571–609.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Ttofi, M., Farrington, D. P., & Losel, F. (2012). School bullying as predictor of violence later in life: A systematic review and meta-analysis of prospective longitudinal studies. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 17, 405–418.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. Ttofi, M. M., Farrington, D. P., Losel, F., & Loeber, R. (2011a). Do victims of school bullies tend to become depressed later in life? A systematic review and meta-analysis of longitudinal studies. Journal of Aggression, Conflict, and Peace Research, 3(11), 63–73.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  79. Ttofi, M. M., Farrington, D. P., Losel, F., & Loeber, R. (2011b). The predictive efficiency of school bullying versus later offending: A systematic/meta-analytic review of longitudinal studies. Criminal Behavior and Mental Health, 21, 80–89.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  80. Turner, M. B., Exum, M. L., Brame, R., & Holt, T. J. (2013). Bullying victimization and adolescent mental health: General and typological effects across sex. Journal of Criminal Justice, 41(1), 53–59.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  81. Vaillancourt, T., Duku, E., Becker, S., Schmidt, L., Nicol, J., Muir, C., & MacMillan, H. (2011). Peer victimization, depressive symptoms, and high salivary cortisol predict poor memory in children. Brain and Cognition, 77, 191–199.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  82. Vaillancourt, T., Duku, E., deCatanzaro, D., MacMillan, H., Muir, C., & Schmidt, L. A. (2008). Variation in hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis activity among bullied and non-bullied children. Aggressive Behavior., 34, 294–305.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  83. Vanderbilt, D., & Augustyn, M. (2010). The effects of bullying. Pediatrics and Child Health, 20(7), 315–320.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  84. Waddell, W. J. (2010). History of dose–response. The Journal of Toxicological Sciences, 35(1), 1–8.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  85. You, S., Furlong, M. J., Felix, E., Sharkey, J. D., Tanigawa, D., & Green, J. G. (2008). Relations among school connectedness, hope, life satisfaction, and bully victimization. Psychology in the Schools, 45(5), 446–460.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Paul R. Smokowski
    • 1
  • Caroline B. R. Evans
    • 2
  1. 1.School of Social WelfareUniversity of KansasLawrenceUSA
  2. 2.Rhode Island CollegeProvidenceUSA

Personalised recommendations