Brock prof receives Early Career Award for childhood bullying research

Ann Farrell’s (MA ’14, PhD ’18) ultimate goal is to help improve the lives of young people.

Through her research, the Assistant Professor in Brock’s Department of Child and Youth Studies is working to determine how to mitigate risk factors and develop methods and interventions to prevent bullying.

Farrell’s distinguished scholarly contributions recently saw her recognized with the Early Career Award from the University at Buffalo’s Alberti Center for Bullying Abuse Prevention, which she was both “honoured and grateful” to receive.

“At the Alberti Center at the University at Buffalo, they use evidence-based knowledge and research in order to help reduce bullying for educators, parents, students and the broader community,” she says. “So, it was very meaningful to be recognized and supported by this group and to know that they saw potential for my research to influence practice and policy.”

Farrell, who completed both her Master of Arts in Child and Youth Studies and her PhD in Psychology at Brock before taking on a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council and a Banting postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Ottawa for three years, returned to the Department of Child and Youth Studies in July as a faculty member.

Her research considers both individual factors that may contribute to bullying, such as personality traits, and how these individual factors interact with other contextual factors like environment, culture and social settings.

“Bullying is a complex social problem, so we need complex understandings and solutions,” she says. “We know not all young people are the same — they have unique experiences and we need to integrate these experiences in research.”

To tackle this complexity, Farrell has worked extensively with data from the McMaster Teen Study, led by Tracy Vaillancourt at the University of Ottawa, which has been following a cohort of more than 700 individuals since the age of 10. The participants are now 24.

The nature of the study helps Farrell explore who is likely to engage in bullying, in what circumstances, and how that behaviour may affect long-term outcomes for them.

“We see aggression across all societies, cultures and types of relationships, including friends, families, romantic relationships and those within the workplace,” says Farrell. “We know that one of the strongest predictors of future aggression is past aggression, so I’m hoping that if I’m able to help prevent earlier forms of aggression, like bullying among children and youth, it could also prevent the development of other forms of aggression or violence in the long term, into adulthood, and any of the adverse consequences associated with that.”

Farrell, who will soon set up her research lab, eventually hopes to launch a new longitudinal study to look at the impacts of broader social and environmental factors on bullying.

Much of the current research on bullying focuses on school and home environments, but Farrell believes that these environments are also influenced by bigger picture concerns.

“Individuals, schools and families are embedded in broader communities, and exposure to factors such as media, political attitudes, intergenerational violence and socioeconomic factors could trickle down to interact with individuals,” she says.

She is also curious about assessing developmental patterns across diverse youth populations to see if or how factors such as immigrant status, ethnicity, economic status, gender and geographic region might affect outcomes.

“Something that I hope to pursue in the next few years is collecting data on different groups of child and youth populations, since it may be that there are some underrepresented communities who might have a completely different experience,” says Farrell. “Do we see the same patterns generally, across all youth populations, or are there distinct, unique patterns that we see amongst different communities?”

These are long-range plans, as Farrell only returned to Brock a few months ago. She says she is looking forward to continuing her journey at the University.

“It was great coming back,” she says. “It’s so exciting to be able to start creating a research lab here, to instruct courses and interact with students and to work alongside great colleagues.”

Ingrid Makus, Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences, says the honour reflects both the impact and significance of Farrell’s ongoing research.

“It is thrilling to see Dr. Farrell receive such an important recognition so early in her career,” says Makus. “We are proud of her not only as a new faculty member, but also as an alumna of not one but two of the excellent graduate programs on offer in the Faculty of Social Sciences.”

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