The Effect of Bullying and Victimization on Cognitive Empathy Development During the Transition to Middle School.

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Graduate School of Social Work


Bullying, Victimization, Middle school transition, Cognitive empathy



Interventions aimed at reducing bullying behavior commonly target the development of empathy. Yet, few longitudinal studies have investigated how empathy levels vary with bullying and victimization over time, especially during the transition to middle school.


To that end, the purpose of the present study was to: (1) examine the naturally-occurring changes in cognitive empathy during the transition from elementary to middle school, and (2) explore the effect of bullying and victimization involvement on changes in cognitive empathy over time, and specifically during this school transition.


Latent growth curve modeling was used to examine growth trajectories in empathy over time and the effects of bullying involvement on this growth among a sample of 431 students (52 % female, 52 % Latino, 10.18 years old at baseline), using data collected during the spring semester of the 4th grade, the fall and spring semesters of 5th grade, and the spring semester of 6th grade.


Cognitive empathy decreased over time, and a linear trajectory was the best fitting shape for these data. Bullying and victimization were both associated with lower levels of cognitive empathy throughout the study. However, the effect of victimization was small and it became non-significant when both were added to the model. Several notable participant-related differences were found.

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