Monday, May 10, 2021

What psychologists know about bullying


One article in a special issue of American Psychologist, written by two University of Illinois professors and one at Arizona State University, says there’s a difference between bullying and aggression in general.

The study’s authors—Philip Rodkin, Dorothy Espelage, and Laura Hanish—describe bullying from a relationship perspective, saying a relationship has to exist between the bully and the victim and that the relationship must feature “an imbalance of power between the two.”

“Bullying is perpetrated within a relationship, albeit a coercive, unequal, asymmetric relationship characterized by aggression,” they wrote in “A Relational Framework for Understanding Bullying: Developmental Antecedents and Outcomes.”

Within that perspective, the image of bullies as socially incompetent youth who rely on physical coercion to resolve conflicts is nothing more than a stereotype. While this type of “bully-victim” does exist and is primarily male, the authors describe another type of bully who is more socially integrated and has surprisingly high levels of popularity among his or her peers.

Other articles in the special issue include:

  • Researchers at the University of Saskatchewan and the University of Ottawa, in Long-Term Adult Outcomes of Peer Victimization in Childhood and Adolescence: Pathways to Adjustment and Maladjustment, write that the negative impact of bullying on academic functioning, physical and mental health, and social relationships and self-perceptions can last through the school years but not necessarily into adulthood. Different outcomes are seen in bullying victims based on their biology, the timing of the bullying, support systems victims have in place, and their own perception of themselves.
  • A survey by scientists at the University of Virginia and Clemson University studies laws in different states related to the way in which schools are held accountable when students are victimized by peer bullies. They write that current legal and policy approaches, rooted in harassment and discrimination law, don’t provide adequate protection for bullying victims. They go on to make recommendations for school policies about bullying.
  • Researchers at the University of Nebraska and the University of British Columbia combined forces to study the different roles students play in bullying scenarios—from bullies to victims to witnesses—and the effects those different roles have on their bullying activity. They say a single student may be bullied at school but come home to victimize a younger sibling. They suggest a model that accounts for the complex and dynamic nature of bullying across multiple settings over time.
  • Finally, Catherine Bradshaw at the University of Virginia surveys bullying prevention programs to determine which ones have been most effective. She makes recommendations based on the methods that look promising, such as close playground supervision, family involvement, and consistent classroom management strategies, concluding that a three-tiered approach can meet the needs of students at all risk levels. Efforts need to be sustained and integrated into students’ lives in order to bring about any real change, though.
Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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