Many researchers and advocates have assumed that technology-based bullying would be particularly damaging to victims because online harassers can post pictures or videos, anonymously and to large audiences, and because the aggression can reach the targets any time of the day or night.
However, the new findings suggest that technology by itself does not necessarily increase the seriousness and level of distress associated with peer harassment.
"Technology-only incidents were less likely than in-person only incidents to result in injury, involve a social power differential and to have happened a series of times," said lead researcher Kimberly Mitchell from University of New Hampshire in the US.
The researchers used data from telephone interviews conducted in 2013-2014 with 791 American youth ages 10-20.
Among the harassment incidents, 54 percent were in-person only; 15 percent involved technology only; and 31 percent involved a combination of the two.
Although technology-only incidents were more likely to involve large numbers of witnesses, they were least likely to involve multiple perpetrators, the study said.
Also, while technology-only incidents were more likely to involve strangers or anonymous perpetrators, this appeared to be less distressing to youth than harassment by schoolmates and other known acquaintances.
Mixed episodes, those that involved both in-person and technology elements, were more likely than technology-only episodes to involve perpetrators who knew embarrassing things about the victim, happen a series of times, last for one month or longer, involve physical injury and start out as joking before becoming more serious.
"It is these mixed episodes that appear to be the most distressing to youth," Mitchell said.
The study was published in the journal Psychology of Violence.