March 23, 2011

Research on School Bullying

This article is extract from Aggression and Violent Behavior 14 (2009) 146–156: Bullying in different contexts: Commonalities, differences and the role of theory.

Research on School Bullying

Bullying has been a focus of research for over 20 years. There has been debate over the definition of the term “bullying”, but most researchers agree that it is an act that is intended to harm, that takes place repeatedly, and with an imbalance of power between the aggressor and target (Farrington, 1993). This is put succinctly by Smith and Sharp and Rigby as a “systematic abuse of power”. In order to understand fully the risk factors involved in studying bullying we need to look to theory. Examination of the characteristics of those who bully or are bullied , and situational factors involved suggest that a number of different psychological approaches may make interesting contribution from which to develop interventions and preventative measures. 

This article is focused on school bullying, which is probable a reflection of the longer research history in this filed. Starting with research in Scandinavia, Japan, and the United Kingdom (U.K.), there is now active research in most European countries, in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the United States (U.S.).

Nature and extent

Main types are physical and verbal bullying, indirect and relational bullying (such as spreading nasty rumors), and social exclusion. Recent research has highlighted cyber bullying via mobile ‘phones and the Internet’ So-called “bias bullying” refers to bullying because of some group (rather than individual) characteristic of the recipient.

A development of the latter (Salmivalli, Lagerspetz, Björkqvist, Österman, & Kaukiainen, 1996) allows differentiation of participant roles, such as ringleader bully, follower, reinforcer, outsider, and defender, as well as victim. Studies with young children suggest that aggressor and defender roles can be recognized by 4–5 years, although few children are continually targeted so early; peer-aggression is more randomly distributed, but becomes focused on certain children later, for example those at risk in various ways (Monks, Smith, Swettenham, 2003).


In school, the majority of bullying takes place in the playground, classroom, or corridors. Self-reports of being bullied decline over the 8 to 16 year period; self-reports of bullying others do not. There tends to be some shift with age away from physical bullying and toward indirect and relational bullying. Boys are more numerous in the bully category, but the sexes are more equal in being bullied. Boys practice/ experience more physical bullying, girls more indirect and relational bullying (Olweus, 1993; Smith et al., 1999).

School factors

There are large school variations in the prevalence of bullying, but factors such as size of school, class size or rural versus big city setting are usually not related to this. However, the school ethos, attitudes of teachers in bullying situations, and the degree of supervision of free
activities appear to be of major significance, as is the existence of an effective school policy (Galloway ; Roland, 2004).

Individual risk factors

Risk factors for being bullied include having few friends, especially friends who can be trusted or who are not themselves of low status; sociometric rejection (Hodges, Malone, Perry, 1997); and coming from over-protective families (Smith; Myron-Wilson, 1998).

Another risk factor is having a disability or special educational needs (e.g., Mishna, 2003; Wainscot, Naylor, Sutcliffe, Tantam; Williams, 2008).

Children of minority ethnic origin often experience more racist name calling (though not necessarily other forms of bullying) than children from the ethnic majority (Monks, Ortega-Ruiz; Rodríguez-Hidalgo, 2008).

In secondary schools, children may be bullied about their sexual orientation, and even physically assaulted or ridiculed about this by teachers or other pupils; a review (Warwick, Chase, Aggleton; Sanders, 2004) found estimates of 30–50% of same-sex attracted young people in U.K. secondary schools having experienced homophobic bullying.

Children who bully others may be hot-tempered, and come from families lacking warmth, in which violence is common, and discipline inconsistent (Olweus, 1993). Fathers who were aggressive and bullying at school are likely to have sonswhowere bullying at school (Farrington, 1993). Children who are bully-victims may come from particularly troubled or abusive families (Schwartz, Dodge, Pettit, Bates, 1997).

Although some bullying childrenmay lack social skills, ringleader bullies especially may have good “theory of mind” abilities and be skilled social manipulators (Sutton, Smith, Swettenham, 1999).


Bullied children are significantly more likely to report not sleeping well, bed wetting, feeling sad, and experiencing head and stomach aches. School doctors and nurses may well be presented with symptoms due to bullying, with implications for school health services (Dawkins, 1995). The experience of being bullied correlates with anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem (Hawker , Boulton, 2000). Findings of low self-esteem for bullies are mainly limited to aspects (e.g., “behavioural self-worth”) directly related to antisocial
behaviour. (O'Moore, 2000).

Individual coping strategies

Pupils adopt a variety of coping strategies when bullied. The success of these varies, and is age- and gender-dependent; however, non-assertive strategies, such as crying, are less successful than ignoring or seeking help.

A substantial proportion of self-reportedbullied pupils say that they have not told a teacher, or someone at home, about the bullying (Naylor, Cowie, del Rey, 2001). This proportion who have not told increases with age; this may reflect the more serious nature of bullying at older age groups as pupils may feel more afraid to tell. The success of telling teachers will depend on the school context (Kochenderfer, Ladd, 1997).

Peer action against bullying

A survey of peer support schemes in schools (Naylor, Cowie, 1999) found that there were benefits to the users, to the peer helpers in terms of confidence and responsibility, and to the school atmosphere generally; but also problems due to some hostility to peer helpers from other pupils, difficulties in recruiting boys as peer supporters, and ensuring sufficient time and resources for proper implementation. An evaluation of the work of CHIPS (ChildLine in Partnership with Schools) in 20 schools (Smith , Watson, 2004), found buddying and befriending schemes common in primary schools, peer mentoring or lunchtime clubs in secondary schools.

Some methods included use of the internet and e-mail support. A clear majority of users said CHIPS had helped them and that they would use the service again.

School action against bullying

Monitored interventions range from case studies of a particular school with a whole-school program against bullying to larger-scale projects. Recent reviews (e.g., Smith, Pepler, Rigby, 2004) suggest that these have effects ranging from a maximum of 50% reduction in prevalence rates, down to near zero or even small negative outcomes; with most outcomes positive and in the range of 10–20% reduction.

Controversies continue as to the effectiveness of whole-school policies (Woods , Wolke, 2003), the use of more or less direct negative sanctions against children who bully others (Smith, Howard, Thompson, 2007), and whether the most effective strategies are specifically directed to targeting bullying, or instead directed to class climate and pupil–pupil and pupil–teacher relations more generally (Galloway, Roland, 2004). School bullying continues to be written about and researched in many countries (Smith et al., 1999).

Does bullying build character? Human Behavioural Specialist Dr John Demartini is outspoken on the benefits of bullying. He talks to David Oldfield about bullying and asks is it bittersweet or simply self-destructive?
Are you a victim of history, or master of your destiny? Follow the link to find more for this point of view


1 comment:

  1. there seems to be nothing on the level of apparent remedial interventions at all on this site. Seems to be alot of talking about it with no practical steps to address a student who bullys, interventions used, impact and responses to intervention. I would like to read about this.