Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Dianna Murray-Close


The overall goal of the current study was to determine whether experiences of relational and physical victimization were related to anxiety and depressive symptoms in a sample of emerging adults. This study also investigated whether these associations were moderated by gender, as well as by sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) reactivity to peer stress. Although work in this area has focused on children (e.g., Cullerton-Sen & Crick, 2005; Rudolph et al., 2009), it appears the presence and function of victimization changes with age, and the negative effects of victimization can last through early adulthood (e.g., Gros et al., 2010; Kumpulainen et al., 1999; Roth et al., 2002). Despite the potential for victimization to influence outcomes in emerging adults, research on these associations is lacking in this age group (Heilbron & Prinstein, 2008). A goal of the current study was to examine these processes in an older sample. Additionally, as individuals may react to peer victimization differently, factors that may help explain these differences were investigated. Specifically, evidence suggests that the interaction of the SNS and the PNS may serve as a moderator in the relationship between stressors and adjustment outcomes (Cummings et al., 2007; El-Sheikh et al., 2009; ObradoviÄ? et al., 2010). Further, research suggests that different patterns of interaction of the SNS and the PNS provide important information in the prediction of adjustment outcomes (El-Sheikh et al., 2009) and that both systems must be examined in order to more fully understand the relationship between physiological reactivity and adjustment outcomes (Beauchaine, 2001). Thus, in the current study, the interaction between two physiological measures, SNS reactivity to stress (as measured by skin conductance reactivity [SCL-R]) and PNS reactivity to stress (as measured by respiratory sinus arrhythmia [RSA-R]), was examined as a moderator of the association between peer victimization and adjustment outcomes. The moderating role of gender was also examined.

Two hundred and forty-six emerging adults participated in the current study (74% female; Mage = 18.77) and were recruited from introductory psychology courses at a northeastern public university. Participants' SCL-R and RSA-R were assessed using a stress protocol during which they discussed an experience of relational victimization (e.g., being left out). Levels of relational and physical victimization, anxiety and depressive symptoms, and gender were gathered using self-report.

Findings suggested that both physical and relational victimization were related to both anxiety and depressive symptoms. Additionally, females were more likely to experience relational victimization than males, while males were more likely to experience physical victimization than females. Relational victimization was related to depressive symptoms only in individuals demonstrating coactivation (i.e., blunted RSA withdrawal and increased SCL-R) and coinhibition (i.e., RSA withdrawal and blunted SCL-R) patterns of stress reactivity, although the interaction for this effect only approached conventional levels of statistical significance. These patterns may have emerged as a result of the breakdown of regulation in the physiological response to stress, with either the SNS or the PNS failing to perform adequately (El- Sheikh & Erath, 2011; El-Sheikh et al., 2009). These findings suggest that experiences of victimization are related to negative adjustment outcomes in emerging adults, as well as highlight potential areas that may serve as mechanisms for future interventions.



Number of Pages

86 p.