Genetic and Environmental Influences on Different Forms of Bullying Perpetration, Bullying Victimization, and Their Co-occurrence

Sabine A.M. Veldkamp, Dorret I. Boomsma, Eveline L. de Zeeuw, Catharina E.M. van Beijsterveldt, Meike Bartels, Conor V. Dolan, Elsje van Bergen*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Bullying comes in different forms, yet most previous genetically-sensitive studies have not distinguished between them. Given the serious consequences and the high prevalence of bullying, it is remarkable that the aetiology of bullying and its different forms has been under-researched. We present the first study to investigate the genetic architecture of bullying perpetration, bullying victimization, and their co-occurrence for verbal, physical and relational bullying. Primary-school teachers rated 8215 twin children on bullying perpetration and bullying victimization. For each form of bullying, we investigated, through genetic structural equation modelling, the genetic and environmental influences on being a bully, a victim or both. 34% of the children were involved as bully, victim, or both. The correlation between being a bully and being a victim varied from 0.59 (relational) to 0.85 (physical). Heritability was ~ 70% for perpetration and ~ 65% for victimization, similar in girls and boys, yet both were somewhat lower for the relational form. Shared environmental influences were modest and more pronounced among girls. The correlation between being a bully and being a victim was explained mostly by genetic factors for verbal (~ 71%) and especially physical (~ 77%) and mostly by environmental factors for relational perpetration and victimization (~ 60%). Genes play a large role in explaining which children are at high risk of being a victim, bully, or both. For victimization this suggests an evocative gene-environment correlation: some children are at risk of being exposed to bullying, partly due to genetically influenced traits. So, genetic influences make some children more vulnerable to become a bully, victim or both.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)432-443
Number of pages12
JournalBehavior Genetics
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 10 Sept 2019


We gratefully acknowledge the ongoing contribution of the participants in the Netherlands Twin Register (NTR), including twins, their families and teachers. This study is part of The Consortium on Individual Development (CID), which is funded through the Gravitation program of the Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture, and Science and the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO 024.001.003). The data collection in the Netherlands Twin Register was supported by ‘Twin-family database for behavior genetics and genomics studies’ (NWO 480-04-004); ‘Longitudinal data collection from teachers of Dutch twins and their siblings’ (NWO-481-08-011); ‘Twin-family study of individual differences in school achievement’ (NWO 056-32-010); and “Aggression in Children: Unraveling gene-environment interplay to inform Treatment and InterventiON strategies” (EU FP7/2007-2013, no 602768). EvB is supported by NWO VENI grant 451-15-017. We would like to thank professor René Veenstra for providing the bullying items and professor Louise Arseneault for her valuable comments on an earlier version of this manuscript.

FundersFunder number
Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture, and Science
Seventh Framework Programme602768
European CommissionFP7/2007-2013
Nederlandse Organisatie voor Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek024.001.003, 451-15-017


    • Bully-victims
    • Bullying
    • Heritability
    • School
    • Twins
    • Victimization

    Cohort Studies

    • Netherlands Twin Register (NTR)


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