According to research carried out by the TeensLab consortium in which UC3M is involved
Physical appearance isn't behind bullying, but the networks of friends and enemies in class determine how much bullying there is in the classroom and who is the victim. Also, those who are bullied often become friends with other bullied people and there is a strong gender component: girls who are bullied are in the centre of the network, while boys are often isolated. These are the main conclusions of the study on the problem of bullying in schools and the role of class contact networks in the emergence and persistence of this problem, carried out by researcher Antonio Cabrales, from the Universidad Carlos III de Madrid (UC3M), within the framework of TeensLab, a consortium of universities that has produced an extensive study on adolescent behaviour, which has been presented in Madrid.
TeensLab is a consortium of five Spanish universities (Loyola University, University of Barcelona, Universidad Carlos III de Madrid, University of Granada and University of the Basque Country), coordinated by the ETEA Foundation-Development Institute and the Loyola Behavioural Lab research group, both belonging to Loyola University, which has presented the results of several studies on the behaviour of more than five thousand adolescents.
Obesity does affect academic performance
The report block dedicated to the skills and abilities of adolescents addressed issues such as the effects of the presence of students with a migrant background and cohesion in the classroom or the impact of childhood obesity. In this regard, the study by Loyola University researcher María José Vázquez concludes that students with a migrant background are not particularly different from the rest of their peers in the same circumstances, except in two aspects: they have a greater preference for risk (they are less prudent) and they are more altruistic.
On the other hand, regarding the impact of childhood obesity on the academic performance of secondary school students, the presented study has revealed that obesity negatively affects academic performance and cognitive skills, especially in the case of girls.
Friendships, enmities and relational networks
As for the type of friendships and enmities within the classroom, the study by Anxo Sánchez, from UC3M, indicates that "two students will be friends with greater or lesser probability depending on the friendships and enmities they have in common; in fact, a quantity can be defined, which is like a sum of friendships and enmities, that allows us to predict with a probability of nearly 90% whether two students are friends or not". In addition, it has been found that the fact that personal attitudes are more or less prosocial is not related to making friends, which speaks to the fundamental role that social context plays in building relationships.
On the other hand, Pablo Brañas Garza, professor of economics at Loyola University, has analysed whether young people correctly predict who their friends and enemies are. The results show that students with high cognitive abilities are better at predicting who their friends and enemies are. It has also been concluded that those who are in the peripheral areas of the relationship networks are perfectly aware of their position in the network, while those in central positions don't know it.
UC3M has also studied the temporal evolution of friendships in a specific institute, where data has been collected on eight different occasions over three years. The results confirm the existence of Dunbar circles in the structure of relationships, that is, there are small groups of best friends that are more stable than ordinary friends, and explain the different nature of enmities, which are far more volatile and less frequent. They also show that only 60% of relationships are reciprocal, a very stable number across the different data collections.
Finally, researchers from the University of Barcelona have studied the characteristics that cause a student to be chosen as a partner for carrying out work. Not surprisingly, boys choose boys and girls choose girls. However, there is another essential element: boys and girls with better grades are always chosen first to form the groups, unlike students who suffer bullying, who are not chosen.
Work is currently underway on a platform so that schools can access these studies, according to Tere García, director of the Department of Quantitative Methods at the University of Granada, who presented this means of transferring results to society. The event ended with a speech from María Castro, Professor of Research and Diagnostic Methods in Education at the Complutense University of Madrid, who addressed the social implications of this type of study and its results for education.
The results presentation event, held at the Círculo de Bellas Artes in Madrid, was attended by the Cotec Foundation's Director of Education and Training, Ainara Zubillaga, and the Professor of Behavioural Economics at Loyola University, Pablo Brañas Garza, responsible for presenting the results, as well as the researchers responsible for the different studies.
Teens Lab, a consortium for adolescent behavioural research
The studies carried out by around twenty researchers from Loyola University, the University of Barcelona, the Universidad Carlos III de Madrid, the University of Granada and the University of the Basque Country correspond to the results of various projects funded in public research calls by the State Research Agency, the Andalusian Regional Government, the European Union, the Basque Government, the Andalusian Agency for International Development Cooperation and the María Maeztu Unit of Excellence.
All this work has led to the creation of this laboratory for the study of adolescent behaviour in our country. With the slogan "improving our young people's education with data", this consortium will make a qualitative leap in data collection to definitively confirm the results, obtain new conclusions with larger samples and move on to the next phase of their practical application, entering the field of interventions to improve different aspects of adolescents' well-being and performance in schools.
In the future, we hope to be able to work with hundreds of schools located in areas with different income levels and geographical locations, for which it would be necessary to establish a stable research team, with data management and processing staff, as well as software that allows, on the one hand, massive and simultaneous data collection, as well as the return of results to the schools, so that they can be used by teachers, tutors and counsellors. It is also essential to have sufficient computing resources to be able to apply advanced machine learning techniques to the entire volume of data available.
References: see all references to published scientific articles and all information about TeensLab here: https://loyolabehlab.org/teenslab/