June 7, 2010 -- Schoolyard bullies are likely to grow up to be adults who abuse their wives and girlfriends, according to a new study.
The study, published this week in the journal Pediatrics, surveyed more than 1,400 men between that ages of 18 and 35 at an urban community center in Boston. It found that men who recalled being frequent bullies in school were four times more likely to physically abuse their partner than those who reported never bullying in school.
"Individuals who are likely to perpetrate abusive behaviors against others may do so across childhood into adulthood," concluded the report, which was led by researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health.
The study also found a link between "bullying others at school and perpetration of IPV (intimate partner violence]."
It was the latest study to indicate that many bullies do not outgrow their aggression. Past research has shown that bullies are at a higher risk of bullying their own kids, losing a job, and getting involved in the criminal justice system.
Adults with a history of bullying are 10 times more likely to lie than those with no bullying history, according to a study published in the September 2010 Psychiatric Quarterly. They also have a higher likelihood of stealing and cheating, the study found.
Mounting research suggests that for both men and women bullies tend to remain bullies. Women, however, are less likely to be the aggressor in an intimate partner relationship, according to developmental and behavioral psychologist Lori Warner in Royal Oak, Mich., who was not involved with the Harvard-led study.
"Girls who are engaging in actual bullying in school, it's typically a social, emotional type of bullying," said Warner. "Boys are more likely to be physically aggressive."
The study was not clear on the age of the men first began to bully, or for how long they bullied others.
"We really need to look at the timing and duration on the type of bullying that occurs," said Kathryn Falb, a research assistant and doctoral candidate at Harvard School of Public Health, who co-authored the study.
The new study indicates that identifying bullies when they are young and changing their behavior can have significant consequences, particularly for women who might otherwise be abused.
One such program is the peer advocate program at the PACER National Bullying Center in Minnesota. And one of its graduates is Kailey Simpson, a 14-year-old who now considers herself a reformed bully.
Kailey, from Howard Lake, Minn., said she had been a bully since at least sixth grade when she coined herself the equal opportunity bully. But after entering a peer advocate program through PACER National Bullying Prevention Center, Kailey has learned instead to stand up for others, particularly those who are bullied. "Once you grow up, you get more mature about it," said Simpson.
Warner said that many effective programs target the root problems of adolescents that cause bullying.
"Research does indicate that in many cases, the bullies are getting their behavior from somewhere. They have witnessed like behavior," said Warner. "One of the biggest risk factors is their environment."
Many bully prevention programs are just emerging, so there's no evidence yet to say whether they can prevent bullies from sustaining their behavior in the long run.
Many programs, including PACER's peer advocate program, cite high success rates when it comes to curbing bullying in schools. Warner said that the short term success could imply that it'll help some kids in the long run.
"We'll be proactive if we're stopping bullies in the playground before they are involved in adult crimes," said Warner.