Date of Award

5-1-2011

Degree Name

Master of Arts

Department

Psychology

First Advisor

DiLalla, Lisabeth

Abstract

The purpose of this study was to explore the relation between anxiety symptoms and victimization experiences. It was expected that anxiety (both at age 5 and follow-up) and victimization (both overt and relational subtypes) would be heritable. It was also expected that early anxiety would predict future victimization experiences and that these experiences would be correlated with concurrent anxiety. Finally, it was predicted that early anxiety and high risk genotypes of the 5-HTTLPR serotonin transporter and DRD2 dopamine receptor genes would serve as diatheses, which upon experiencing the stressor of victimization, would put an individual at a multiplicatively greater risk for experiencing anxiety symptoms. Sixty-five children from the Southern Illinois Twins and Siblings Study (SITSS) were examined longitudinally. Parent-reported anxiety was obtained at age 5. Then during a follow-up study when the children were aged 6-16 years, parent- and self-report measures of anxiety and a self-report measure of victimization experiences were collected. Results indicated that the genetic influences on parent-reported anxiety at age 5 and total victimization were significant, with practically no influence of the shared environment. However, self-reported anxiety appeared to be largely due to the non-shared environment. A diathesis stress framework was not supported in this study, as early anxiety and high-risk genotype did not put an individual at greater risk for developing subsequent anxiety after being victimized. Although significant heritability was demonstrated for early anxiety and victimization, high risk alleles for both of the genes examined in this study (5-HTTLPR and DRD2) were not significant contributors to the demonstrated genetic underpinnings. Likewise, early anxiety did not serve as a diathesis for subsequent anxiety. However, age 5 and follow-up measures were positively correlated when both were reported by a parent, a result that did not remain true when measures were taken from different informants. The relation between anxiety symptoms and victimization also varied by informant and time. Early anxiety, as reported by a parent, was predictive of overt victimization specifically, whereas youth reports of anxiety were significantly related to both subtypes of victimization (both of which were measured at follow-up). However, parent-reported anxiety at follow-up was not significantly associated with any form of victimization. These results indicate that the relation between anxiety symptoms and victimization is complex and dependent on the type of victimization and reporter of anxiety symptoms. Understanding the maladaptive consequences of experiencing peer victimization as well as the psychological factors that put children at risk for being bullied will inform teachers, parents, and counselors how to effectively prevent and handle these maladaptive interactions. Given that peer victimization is a very common phenomenon, research in this field will generalize to a large portion of the population.

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