Young people understand the risks posed by cyberbullying but in general believe it is more likely to happen to someone else than to them, a study conducted in Britain suggests.

The study involving British students between the ages of 16 and 18 was designed to gauge their personal perceived vulnerability to cyberbullying compared with what they thought the risk might be to others.

Analysis of the data gathered showed the students considered themselves as being at less risk of online bullying than other groups such as their friends, other students their age, younger students or strangers, researchers said.

"Our findings suggest that whilst young people are aware of the potential risks associated with cyberbullying, they believe that they are less likely to experience cyberbullying than their peers," says study researcher Lucy Betts of Nottingham Trent University. "This unrealistic perception of invulnerability appears to lead many to think it is something that happens to other people."

Study participants identified younger students as the group they thought most at risk of being victimized by cyberbullying, Betts says.

Young women proved more likely to hold the perception of cyberbullying being a risk for someone other than themselves, the researchers also found.

Citing other studies of the high incidence of cyberbullying among young people, ranging from 7 percent to as high as 70 percent, Betts suggested it "may be necessary to implement more measures so that whilst continuing to raise young people's awareness of the risks we also ensure they fully understand that this could actually happen to them." The study results will be presented at the British Psychological Society's Annual Conference May 7 in Liverpool.

A number of studies have focused on the impact of cyberbullying.

In one study of college-age women, it was found one in four had experienced cyberbullying in the academic environment, with a resultant increase in their risk of developing depression.

Another study found that cyberbullying isn't just a problem in middle class and affluent areas on one side of the perceived "digital divide," but that teenagers in poor, high-crime neighborhoods also experience online bullying.

"We found neighborhood conditions that are indicative of poverty and crime are a significant predictor for bullying - not only for physical and verbal bullying, but cyberbullying as well," says Thomas J. Holt, an associate professor of criminal justice at Michigan State University.

The study appears in the July-August issue of the Journal of Criminal Justice.

About 30 percent of American youth have experienced a bullying incident, either as victim or bully, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Victims are at greater risk for academic and mental health problems and suicide.

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