Geeks. Gamers. Goths. Nerds. Overachievers. Loners. Queen Bees. Choose your euphemism, but my blog this week will address concerns for all these groups.

What do the above have in common? Exclusion.

Exclusion is a familiar experience that most people in these groups have experienced. Maybe you were the ‘fat kid’ or the one who never got chosen for the sports teams first; at some point you were excluded or shunned. And it hurt. A lot. Humans are social creatures and research into the brain regions involved with social exclusion, have shown that those areas activated for physical pain are also activated for social pain (Eisenberger, Lieberman and Williams, 2003), demonstrating that we have adapted physical pain to warn us when our social relationships are threatened (Panksepp, 1988).

Bullying is a multifaceted, coercive behaviour that is defined as ‘any repeated negative activity or aggression intended to harm someone who is perceived by peers as being less physically or psychologically powerful than the aggressor’ (Glew, et al., 2005). It would be nice if we could simply say, “kids will be kids”, and parents often do, however nowadays, it can take place in school, around the neighbourhood and on the Internet, making it an increasing problem throughout the world.

This week I will address the short and long term consequences of bullying for both victims and bullies; the characteristics of victims, bullies and bystanders; and the prevention of bullying.

Short-term consequences (by no means an exhaustive list): First of all, as a result of being bullied, victims may experience extreme depression. Kaltiala-Heino, Rimpelä, Marttunen, Rimpelä and Rantanen (1999) observed secondary schools in Finland and found that there was an increased prevalence of depression and severe suicidal ideation among victims. Bullied victims may also experience a loss of self-esteem/self-worth, trouble sleeping, anxiety, truancy and a decrease in grades. Woods and Wolke (2004) found that bullying and victimisation were associated with poor academic achievement.

The short-term consequences for bullies are similar to that of the victims, with a general decrease in academic performance (Holt, Finkelhor & Kaufman Kantor, 2007), truancy and a prevalence of depression (Kaltiala-Heino et al., 1999). Bullies also experience difficulty in maintaining friendships and have a higher risk for alcohol/substance abuse (Ialongo, Werthamer, Kellam, Brown, Wang & Lin, 1999).

Long-term consequences of bullying that affect victims include chronic depression – which can lead to suicidal tendencies – self-destructive behaviours and a likelihood that the individual will partake in alcohol or substance abuse. Whereas the long-term consequences for the bully include a continued difficulty in maintaining relationships, an increased chance of spousal/child abuse as an adult, and a study by Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, found that nearly 60 percent of bullies are convicted of crime by the age of 24.

So what determines whether someone becomes a bully, a victim or a bystander?

Becoming a bully: bullying behaviour is a ‘red flag’ that a child has not learned to control his or her aggression. Children who bully have typically witnessed physical or verbal violence/aggression at home, leading them to have a positive view of the behaviour (Rigby, 2005). Bullies may have trouble following rules, show little concern for the feelings of others and often expect others to look up to them or behave according to the wishes of the bullies (Lyznicki, McCaffree and Robinowitz, 2004).

Becoming a victim: passive victims tend to lack defense skills, be more anxious and sensitive than their peers and will not retaliate when confronted. Provocative victims are impulsive and tend to annoy the bully. Relational victims are usually excluded from the group or ‘clique’ and tend to lack the social skills to fit in. A typical victim is usually different in some way; Norwich and Kelly (2004) show that pupils with special educational needs for moderate learning difficulties, experience far more bullying from both children in mainstream schools and even their own peers.

Becoming a bystander you are part of the largest group affected by bullying behaviour; these students are considered the “caring majority, 85% of children who are neither bullies nor victims” (Garity, Jens, Porter, Sager & Short-Camilli, 1998). Bystanders are either part of the problem – watching and encouraging for the thrill or to show off – or the solution – doing nothing for fear of being the next victim.

Prevention or Cure?

The need for evidence-based intervention programmes: bullying has gradually crept onto the official school agenda as something that needs to be intervened and prevented. But how can we address this pressing issue? The Olweus Bullying Prevention Programme (OBPP)  is a whole-school programme proven to reduce bullying in a school setting. Statistics from their site show that there are significant reductions in antisocial behaviour, including bullying, truancy and school violence. They also report significant improvements in the classroom ‘climate’. Bauer, Lozano and Rivara (2006) found that relational and physical victimisation decreased, with students actively intervening in bullying incidents. Similarly, Olweus (2005) studied approximately 21,000 students who partook in the OBPP and found substantial reductions (32-49%) in bullying problems.

It is clear that bullying will never be cured. Exclusion among students is prevalent in schools and spills out into the work environment. It is so common that there is almost a social tolerance regarding bullying: “It happens to everyone. Get over it.” It can take hold of you from a young age and stay with you, forever etched into your memory. But if we can grasp this demon from nursery to our schools, establishing rules and interventions to prevent bullying, then the children of tomorrow may treat each other with more respect and kindness and be able to carry that through the rest of their lives.


Panksepp, J. (1988). Affective neuroscience: The foundations of human and animal emotions. New York: Oxford University Press.

Garrity, C., Jens, K., Porter, W., Sager, N., & Short-Camilli, C. (1998). Bully proofing your school: A comprehensive approach for elementary schools. Longmont, CO: Sopris West.


14 thoughts on “BLOG 7: THE BULLYING CULTURE

  1. You address an important topic that has been addressed in some extent in schools so far. Peer victimisation is strongly associated with symptoms of anxiety and depression. In a cohort study that was conducted over two years in secondary schools in Australia and in which 2680 students participated in (years 8 and 9) incidence of self-reported symptoms of anxiety or depression was strongly associated with prior victimisation (Bond et al., 2001). Poor social relationships also predict the onset of emotional disorders in adolescents. Another study of Kaltiala-Heino et al. (2000) confirms these findings and adds that these symptoms are equally common amongst bullies. Next to anxiety and depression this study conducted in Finnish schools also related bullying and victimization to eating disorders and substance use.

    Twemlow et al. (2013) name several things to consider, important are especially
    1) clear and consistent signals from home and school
    2) when adults deny problems, children become targets
    3) safety important for learning environment
    4) feeling of security and self-value lead to growth

    These issues have to be considered and enhanced in a programme addressing the problem of bullying.

    A program called “Steps to Respect: A Bullying Prevention Program” (STR) increases awareness and responsiveness of school staff, encourages socially responsible behaviour and teaches social-emotional skills (Low et al., 2013). A Teacher Implementation Checklist system and outcones from 1,424 students indicated that stronger engagement in the program led to a decrease in bullying, a better school climate and socially responsible attitudes. Humphrey et al. (2013) implemented a programme called Achievement for All (AfA) for students with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), a group that is especially vulnerable to bullying. In 323 schools across England it showed decreasing rates of bullying.

    Further research has to be done and more programmes have to be implemented in schools. Parents should also be included and addressed in these programmes because their upbringing and behaviour has a big impact on childrens´ behaviour.

    Bond et al. (2001). Does bullying cause emotional problems? A prospective study of young teenagers. BMJ, 323: 480.

    Humphrey et al. (2013). Achievement for All: Improving psychosocial outcomes for students with special educational needs and disabilities. Elsevier, 34(4), 1210-1225.

    Kaltiala-Heino et al. (2000). Bullying at school-an indicator of adolescents at risk for mental disorders. Journal of Adolescence, 23(6), 661-674.

    Low et al. (2013). Engagement Matters: Lessons from Assessing Classroom Implementation of Steps to Respect: A Bullying Prevention Program Over a One-year Period. Prevention Science.

    Twemlow et al. (2013). Bullying is everywhere: Ten universal truths about bullying as a social process in schools & communities. Psychoanalytic Inquiry: A topical journal for mental health professionals, 33(2), 73-89.

    • Your point about Twemlow is a pertinent one; in today’s society, bullying is easier, in a sense, as bullies have access to the Internet as well as face to face confrontations. Technology, despite giving us many advantages, also has a dark side; cyber bullying is prominent both in schools and the workplace. Email, texting, chat rooms, mobile phones, mobile phone cameras and web sites can and are being used by young people to bully peers, and this is a global problem, with reports of it affecting the United States, Canada, Japan, Scandinavia and the United Kingdom, as well as in Australia and New Zealand (Campbell, 2005).

      It is also much too easy for adults to ignore such problems, as it is difficult to protect pupils from attacks via their phones, social networking accounts and email. This can lead to destructive consequences; Gini and Pozzoli (2009) conducted a meta analysis looking at the association between bullying and psychosomatic problems in students; they demonstrated an association between involvement in bullying and psychosomatic problems. Both victims and bullies had a significantly higher risk of psychosomatic problems compared with their uninvolved peers. Given that school bullying is a widespread phenomenon throughout the world, their results suggest that bullying should be considered a significant international public health issue.

  2. Once again Sophie, a really interesting blog topic and one that I think we have all had experience of, at some point in our lives we’ve all been involved in the cycle of bullying, whether you were the bully or the victim. I think bullying these days can be perceived as being slightly harsher than when we were at school. Social networking sites are a massive factor in children’s lives and unfortunately this can mean, that bullying doesn’t stop at the schools gates. Your blog inspired me to research into the area of cyber bullying and just how prevalent it is. I must say first though, that the research into cyber bullying is extensive, so if its an area you’re also interested on reading up on, there’s lots there! However, I don’t want to make this comment into the length of a blog, so ill just include the bits I found really interesting: Popović-Ćitić (2011) conducted research in Serbia, 387 middle school students from five state schools were surveyed. 10% of students aged 11-15 reported that they have cyber bullied other people and 20% reported that they had become victims online. Significant gender differences showed that males were victimized more than females and that it took the form of harassment. Wade (2011) also conducted research in Canada and found that the newest and most used methods of bullying now include harassing emails, texting and sending personal pictures. Results showed that a substantial proportion of students in grades 6, 7, 10 and 11 are involved in cyber bullying in one-way or the other. Girls are more likely to be targets. I just wanted to point out here that the difference in genders being targeted could be as a result of where the studies were conducted. So it seems that bullying has always been around and that children at some point in their lives will become involved in it. However, I really do believe that bullying has been taken one step further, it doesn’t end in school and victims are often targeted at all points of the day, all days of the week.; they really cannot escape. I’ve always complained that I’d like to be back in high school and be a child again… after this research and you’re blog…I think I’ve changed my mind!!

    • Good point, Becky, school could be torture! I thought the references you used were interesting, as in one study the boys were victimised more and in the other girls were increasingly targeted. I took it from here to research a little about gender differences regarding cyber bulling, and found in one study that males were more likely to be both bullies and cyber bullies than their female counterparts (Li, 2006), and in another that girls were more likely to be cyber bullied than boys (Smith, Mahdavi, Carvalho & Tippett, 2006). The final study I looked at showed that girls were more likely to be victims overall, and to be cyber bullied (Smith et al, 2008). From my own personal experience, females tend to be more sly and covert in their bullying, whereas males tend to be more upfront and physical with each other when they have a problem. The Internet, however, has allowed even the shyest of persons the power to cyber bully, as it depersonalises you to the extent that you don’t always act the way you would if face to face with someone.

  3. Really interesting blog! I’d just like to raise a question about the point you made that bullies behave in the way they do due to their social environment and a failure to learn how to act appropriately. As you highlight bullying is often the result of aggression, that is then taken out on a victim. However such behaviour cannot surly just be explained by environmental effects but that children may be genetically determined to act in such a way. Brendgen et al (2005) analysed social and physical aggression within 234 6-year-old twins. Interestingly, they found social aggression was not influenced very much at all by genetic factors. However there was a significant interaction between genetic and environmental influence for levels of physical aggression. In other words, both environmental and genetic factors can influence levels of certain bullying behaviour. Social situations have the potential to trigger such consequences for children with genetic predispositions for physical aggression. Therefore such interventions are necessary, as you state, however perhaps more so for some children than others!

    Brendgen, M., Dionne, G., Girard, A., Boivin, M., Vitaro, F., & Perusse, D. Examining genetic and environmental effects on social aggression: a study of 6-year-old twins. Child Development, 76(4), 930-946. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8624.2005.00887.x

    • An excellent point, Sarah and I completely agree. If an individual is already genetically predisposed to be more aggressive, then impacting environmental factors could increase such a behaviour. Cote, Vaillancourt, LeBlanc, Nagin and Tremblay (2004) looked into how levels of physical aggression develop from toddlerhood to pre-adolescence; looking at approximately 10,658 children they discovered that the majority of children in the high physical aggression trajectory group tended to be boys, from low income families, from families where the mother had not completed high school and who reported hostile.ineffective parenting strategies. The researchers found that the majority of children from their cohorts were usually able to learn to inhibit physical aggression by the end of childhood, although a minority failed to do this. During school, if practices are put in place to reduce the aggressive behaviour that some children develop – such as socialisation and interventions – then perhaps we can reduce the amount of aggressive behaviour, that could eventually lead to bullying.

  4. Yoon (2004) wanted to investigate what teacher’s attitude were towards bullying and what factors in a teacher would lead to an intervention on their part. The seriousness of the situation and teacher’s empathy and efficacy were the main focus of this study. Unsurprisingly almost, teacher’s with high self-efficacy and empathy towards the victim were most likely to intervene in situations. The most important factor however was the seriousness of the situation and it was this that was most likely to push a teacher to intervene despite their levels of self-efficacy and empathy. It must be noted however that this study was carried out on hypothetical situations and with self-report questionnaires. It is likely that teacher’s would perhaps judge their interventions as being more frequent than actually happens. Yoon does point out that the conclusions of this study are based on interventions teacher’s would do and not how they actually intervene in the school environment. As we’re all aware that self-report studies have their limitations, it is essential that more of an observant study takes place but reports from students also occurs. It can be assumed there for that increasing teacher’s knowledge on the severity and consequences of bullying must be made aware and to increase teacher’s confidence in how to intervene so that more can be done to reduce bullying in schools.

  5. Bullying is a prevalent problem in schools, whilst much has been done to combat it, many children in the education system are still ostracised and picked on. Whether bullying affects academic performance or learning is of great concern, but does not devalue solving bullying if it is of no consequence. Social exclusion has severe detrimental effects – many of the high profile shooters we see on the news who have mowed down schools guns blazing have had social problems and are far removed from humanity before committing such atrocious acts. Juvonen, Wang and Espinoza (2011) explored whether bullying was related to academic performance for middle schoolers. They found grade averages and teacher ratings to be predicted by self-perceptions and peer-perceptions of victimisation. It is worrying that the problem of bullying persists through generations and that the common response is “that’s just what kids do.”

    Juvonen, J., Wang, Y., & Espinoza, G. (2011). Bullying Experiences and Compromised Academic Performance Across Middle School Grades. The Journal of Early Adolescence. vol. 31 no. 1 152-173doi: 10.1177/0272431610379415

  6. Hello,

    I really enjoyed your blog this week, as previous comments have said this is an important issue that is growing with the development of technology, and one all of us will have experiences from either a bully, victim of bystanders viewpoint.

    As you found, both bullies and victims are at risk of future difficulties academically and socially (Soco & Little, 2005). I agree with you, more preventative measures being implemented earlier and that are evidence based will surely be better than only dealing with bullying once it occurs! Fonagy et al (2005) found that the most effective way to tackle bullying was by using a whole school intervention, they researched types of intervention and found to be effective programmes need to use more than the awareness training that most schools use, and work as part of an active programme with everybody involved.

  7. Pingback: Comments I’ve made for Blog 7 | Sarah's Blog

  8. Further to all the previous point made regarding bullying, i’d like to highlight some research that suggest that the experience of bullying at a young age can have long term negative impacts on a child’s attitude towards school, and thus their education: Schwartz et al. (2002) (ref 1), Woods et al. (2002) (ref 2) found that peer victimization often led to low academic achievement and a lack of assertive pro social behaviour. This suggests that the decrease in self esteem a child can suffer from being bullied once, can make them more susceptible to being bullied again, so the vicious cycle of bullying and low academic achievement could continue throughout childhood.
    In response to findings like this, some research has shown that taking an active approach to the issue of bullying, by performing early interventions on children that shown indicators of anti-social behaviour can reduce the likelihood of them developing behavioral problems like bullying later on in their childhood (Lalongo et al. 1999)


  9. I agree that bullying can never be cured, however there are some interventions that have been demonstrated to effectively reduce bullying in schools and one of these is KiVa.

    KiVa is an anti-bullying programme administered to Finnish comprehensive schools (Salmivalli, Kärnä, & Poskiparta, 2011). KiVa believes that motivation to bully derives from strategies to gain status and power amongst peers. This strategy is usually successful as bullies are perceived to have a high popularity status (Caravita, DiBlasio & Salmivalli, 2008). Bullying also helps maintain status (Juvonen & Galvan, 2008) and sometimes increase status (Gillessen & Borch, 2004). In order to maintain a high status, bullies select physically weak victims and victimise these students when peers are present (Salimvalli, 2011).

    One of the main principles of KiVa is that they do not change the victim (i.e. they do make them less vulnerable). Instead, KiVa aims to influence the behaviour of the other students in the class. This reduces the awards (such as high attention, status and power) gained by the bully and subsequently reduces the motivation for the bullying. Additionally, the unacceptable behaviour exhibited by the bully is addressed and support is provided for the victim (Salmivalli, Kärnä & Poskiparta, 2011).

    The KiVa programme is employed using videogames and virtual learning worlds within the classroom. Also, the KiVa team visit the school. The aim of these visits is to highlight the importance of the role of bystanders and to encourage them to provide support for the victims (Salmivalli, Kärnä & Poskiparta, 2011)

    Using large random control trials KiVa has been shown to be effective in reducing bullying. KiVa significantly reduces self and peer reported victimisation and bullying (Karna et al., 2011). Additionally, KiVa has been shown to have positive effects on academic achievement and motivation (Salmivalli, Garandeau & Veenstra, 2012). KiVa also has psychological positive effects by reducing levels of student depression and anxiety (Williford, Noland, Little, Karna & Salmivalli, 2011).
    For more information about KiVa the link to their website is:

    Salmivalli, C., Kärnä, A., & Poskiparta, E. (2011). Counteracting bullying
    in Finland: The KiVa program and its effects on different forms of being
    bullied. IJBD.
    Juvonen, J., & Galvan, A. (in press). Peer contagion in involuntary social groups: Lessons from
    research on bullying. In M. Prinstein, & K. Dodge (Eds.), Peer influence processes among
    youth. New York: Guilford Press.
    Salmivalli, C., Garandeau, C., & Veenstra, R. (2012). KiVa Anti-Bullying Program: Implications for School Adjustment. To be published in G. Ladd & A. Ryan (Eds.), Peer Relationships and Adjustment at School. Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing.(In press).
    Kärnä, A., Voeten, M., Little, T., Poskiparta, E., Kaljonen, A., & Salmivalli, C. (2011). A large-scale evaluation of the KiVa anti-bullying program; Grades 4-6. Child Development, 82, 311-330.
    Williford, A., Noland, B., Little, T., Kärnä, A., & Salmivalli, C. (2011). Effects of the KiVa anti-bullying program on adolescents’ perception of peers, depression, and anxiety. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology.

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