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A conversation with Savannah Boele

An interview

Recently, we talked to Savannah Boele, whose article "Person-Group Dissimilarity in Personality and Peer Victimization" is featured in EJP's special issue "Personality and Social Structure". Savannah just finished a Research Master on Development and Socialization in Childhood and Adolescence at Utrecht University.

Q: Hi Savannah, can you tell us about your study?

We examined whether deviation from the group norm in personality (defined in our study as the class average in the Big Five and the Dark Triad) was related to victimization by peers. We expected that greater deviation from the group norm would be related to more peer victimization. This was based on the person-group dissimilarity model by Wright, Giammarino and Parad (1986) that states that the group norm defines how behavior is evaluated within the peer group. Thus, adolescents who are different from the group norm might have lower status in the peer group and could therefore be more vulnerable to becoming victimized. We tested this in a sample of about 1000 adolescents and we did find some evidence that supported the hypothesis, but it was not as straight-forward as we had expected. For instance, we found that non-linear person-group dissimilarity (i.e., scoring higher or lower on a personality trait than the group norm) in extraversion was related to victimization as perceived by the victim (i.e., self-reported victimization), but not to victimization as reported by the bully (i.e., bully-disclosed victimization). We also found a linear effect of person-group dissimilarity in neuroticism. In this case, linear dissimilarity meant that when adolescents were higher - but not lower - on neuroticism than the group norm, they were higher on both self-reported and bully-disclosed peer victimization.

Q: What do you think are important implications of your findings?

Our findings show that it's not just mean level scores of personality that relate to peer victimization, but that it's also important to take into account how much the individual differs from the group norm. So, I think it is important for researchers to look beyond mean level scores and examine personality or behavior of adolescents in a group context.
Moreover, we found differences in the results between victimization as perceived by the victim and victimization as reported by the bully. This corresponds to research finding only a small correlation between self-reports and peer-reports of victimization, indicating that there is little overlap between your experience with being victimized and others seeing that you are victimized. For future reserach, it is thus important to include measurements of different perspectives of the victimization and not just the subjective experience of the victims.

Q: What made you decide to study peer victimization?

This study actually sort of fell into my hands. My coauthors, Jelle Sijtsema and Theo Klimstra, already had this research topic in mind, and at the beginning of my research internship (this is like a research assistantship) they asked me whether I was interested in conducting this study and writing the paper. However, I have always been interested in vulnerable youth and it interests me to see why these individuals are picked as victims, why they have these negative experiences with peers, and how this affects their emotional functioning. Peers are very important in adolescence, and negative peer experiences can have a big influence on an adolescent's mental health. I think personality can provide us with important insights in understanding this phenomenon.

Q: This is your first publication (congratulations!). What was your experience like with the process?

It was definitely a great learning experience for me and a nice addition to the research master's program I was doing at the time. However, it was also hard work - especially because we wanted to apply for a special issue and therefore had a deadline. I liked learning how to do response surface analysis, which we needed to properly answer our research question. Moreover, I actually experienced the reviewing process as really pleasant, because you get a lot of constructive feedback that in the end will only make your paper better!

Q: Where do you see yourself in the future?

I recently wrote my master's thesis on empathy and relationship quality in adolescence. For this paper, I wanted to see how the two are related and whether parent-child and peer relationship quality were related to adolescent empathy in a different way. I examined this with a meta-analysis. Although taking a slightly different approach, my thesis is also in line with my interests and I hope to submit it for publication sometime in the near future. After this, I want to continue pursuing an academic career, so I am currently looking for a PhD position - and will hopefully find one soon! I would like to do something related to the social and emotional functioning of adolescents and how parents and/or peers might influence this functioning.

Q: Do you have any tips or advice for other students?

If you want to pursue a PhD, I think it's important that you do research internships and that they really fit the subject of your PhD. That is, it's important to have previous experience in the field that you want to pursue your PhD in. So, in your master's program, try to choose your internships wisely. And if there are opportunities to write or co-write a manuscript: take them. It's hard work, but it's all worth it!

Thanks so much for the interview, Savannah!

A conversation with Kelci Harris