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Weinreich, Lior; Haberstroh, Stefan; Schulte-Körne, Gerd; Moll, Kristina (2023): The relationship between bullying, learning disorders and psychiatric comorbidity. BMC Psychiatry, 23 (1). ISSN 1471-244X

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Both learning disorders and bullying are major sources of public concern. Children with learning disorders often suffer from social rejection, potentially rendering them more susceptible to bullying involvement. Bullying involvement leads to a higher risk towards developing various problems including self-harm and suicidality. Past research on whether learning disorders are childhood bullying risk factors yielded inconsistent results.

The current study used path analyses on a representative sample of 2,925 German 3rd and 4th grades to examine whether learning disorders are a direct bullying risk factor, or whether their impact depends on psychiatric comorbidity. More so, the current study sought to examine whether associations differ between children with and without learning disorders, compare different bullying roles (i.e., only victim, only bully, or bully-victim), compare gender, and control for IQ and socioeconomic status.

Results indicated that learning disorders are not a direct but rather an indirect childhood risk factor for bully-victim involvement, depending on psychiatric comorbidity with internalizing or externalizing disorders. Regarding the comparison between the samples of children with and without learning disorders, an overall difference and a difference in the path between spelling and externalizing disorders emerged. No difference for different bullying roles (i.e., only victim, only bully) emerged. Negligible differences emerged when IQ and socioeconomic status were controlled. An overall gender difference emerged, compatible with past research, indicating higher bullying involvement among boys compared to girls.

Children with learning disorders are at a higher risk of having psychiatric comorbidity, which in turn renders them at a higher risk of bullying involvement. Implications for bullying interventions and school professionals are deduced.

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