The Impact of Definition and Question Order on the Prevalence of Bullying Victimization Using Student Self-Reports

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Accurate measurement is essential to determining the prevalence of bullying and evaluating the effectiveness of intervention efforts. The most common measurement approach is through anonymous self-report surveys, but previous studies have suggested that students do not adhere to standard definitions of bullying and may be influenced by the order of questions about types of victimization. In the current study, we have presented findings from 2 randomized experiments designed to determine (a) the impact of using or not using a definition of bullying and (b) asking about general versus specific types of bullying victimization and how the order of these questions affects victimization-prevalence rates. The study was conducted using a sample of 17,301 students attending 119 high schools. Findings indicate that the use of a definition had no impact on prevalence rates, but asking specific bullying-victimization questions (e.g., “I have been verbally bullied at school”) prior to general bullying-victimization questions (e.g., “I have been bullied at school”), resulted in a 29–76% increase in victimization-prevalence rates. Results suggest that surveys that ask general-to-specific bullying-victimization questions, such as those found in national and international surveys, may be underreporting bullying victimization.

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