Bullying targets gifted students


Peer violence is one of the problems that raises the most social concern in schools due to its prevalence, its severity and its relationship with health and psychosocial adjustment variables.

Numerous studies have revealed physical health problems, emotional and behavioral difficulties , impaired social development, and poor academic performance associated with youth exposure to this violence.

School bullying is defined as a form of violence in which one or more people attack another peer (or peers) repeatedly over time with malicious intent, with an imbalance of power between the parties involved.

A school “pandemic”

School bullying (and particularly peer violence) is a phenomenon of a “pandemic” nature, that is, it is a problem that extends to many countries and continents, crosses borders, exceeds the number of expected cases and persists over time.

To verify this sad statement, we refer the reader to the 2018 UNESCO report on the matter. It collects data from international surveys in more than 40 countries on students between 11 and 17 years old. The results reveal that approximately one in three students has been harassed by her classmates for one or more days in the month prior to the survey.

In Spain, according to the Report carried out by UNICEF in 2021 , we find that the data on bullying victimization varies between 22.5% and 33.6%, depending on the cut-off points. In such a way that between 2 and 3 students out of 10 are victims.

Highly Capable Students

The relationship between bullying and gifted students has been studied for almost two decades with very different results : some report more bullying to this group, others do not perceive differences and a few maintain that gifted students suffer less bullying than students without high capacities.

Preliminary data in Spain already suggested that there was a relevant problem with this heterogeneous group of students and seemed to indicate that they would be hit with violence more frequently.

More victimized

Our study is the largest in the Spanish field on bullying and giftedness to date. 449 adolescents diagnosed with giftedness from all over the national territory and 950 students without a diagnosis of giftedness participated, from 14 centers in seven autonomous communities (Principality of Asturias, Community of Madrid, Castilla-La Mancha, Castilla y León, Valencian Community, Community of Aragon and Basque Country).

The results indicate that students with high abilities have a significantly higher prevalence of victimization: 50.6% are involved in victimization problems, compared to 27.6% of students without high abilities.

On the contrary, the number of pure aggressors (that is, they are only aggressors) in both samples does not present statistically significant differences (1.1% in students with high abilities and 2.4% in students without high abilities).

Effects and causes

Violence affects everyone who receives it, but also those who exercise it and those who observe it. In such a way that every person who is related to a circuit of violence is going to be affected by it and the data of the study corroborate it.

Being a victim or victim-aggressive is related to high levels of stress, anxiety, depression and a lower health-related quality of life for all types of students. However, high-ability victims reported significantly more stress than non-high-ability victims.

In the social context in which we live, any difference can make people who do not blend in with their environment to be seen as a potential target for ridicule, mockery, verbal or physical aggression, etc.

On the one hand, this greater victimization of students with high abilities may be due to their constitution as a minority group, this trait of minority versus majority (general population of school age) being what may explain part of the propensity to be bullied .

Different from the others

This difference can occur in any sense (regardless of whether it is something positive or not) and can become a risk factor for victimization. The differences can be of all kinds: physical, such as being very tall, short, obese or thin; have problems with speech (dysphemia); wear braces, glasses or cochlear implants; belonging to a minority ethnic group, a religion other than that of the majority or having a non-normative sexual orientation.

In addition to what has been said, the theory of social identity , points out that intergroup processes lead individuals to behave in such a way that the group itself is favored (ingroup) and others are discriminated against (outgroup).

Group contrast effects are crucial for the development of its norms and identity signs and are typically based on the most salient characteristic that distinguishes its members (minimum paradigm within the group), which justifies bullying simply because a peer is not member of the ingroup, even encouraging aggression .

This effect of distancing from the outgroup has been found even in children of 4 and 5 years. In this way, it can be better understood how different minority groups suffer more victimization compared to the majority group.

Respect for difference

At least two of the key pending challenges are:

  1. That the centers are safe environments for all students.
  2. Include and respect what is different in the school context.

In general, from society, the family and other areas of socialization, what is “different” is still seen as negative. This is the first great in-depth reflection: the acceptance of differences and diversity is a great pending subject.

Keys to the future

Students with high abilities are diverse, also among themselves, so this unaccepted differential fact makes them more vulnerable. If, in addition, the conception that one has of them is incorrect or is blurred and tinged with stereotypes, the problem is aggravated. To avoid it, it is necessary, at least:

  1. Correctly understand what it means to present high capacities .
  2. Properly identify this population.
  3. Dismantle the numerous myths about giftedness, which cause a real problem in this school population and in their family environments.
  4. Approach the educational care of students with high abilities in an appropriate manner and avoid, especially, that the teacher points out the student with high abilities as different.

Author Bios: Joaquin Manuel Gonzalez Cabrera is Teacher and Researcher. University Professor (Level 1). Dept. School, Family and Society. Education Faculty. Principal Investigator of the Cyberpsychology Group (UNIR) at UNIR – International University of La Rioja, Javier Touron is Emeritus Professor at the International University of La Rioja (UNIR). Former Vice-Rector for Innovation and Educational Development (expert in High capacities and talent development; educational technology) also at UNIR – International University of La Rioja and Juan Manuel Machimbarrena who is Associate Professor of the Department of Clinical and Health Psychology and Research Methodology at the University of the Basque Country / Euskal Herriko Unibertsitatea