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Are some children more likely to bully than others?

A Scottish study carried out in 1989 found that bullies came from all social classes. It also found that bullies came from all types of family backgrounds. According to the study children were more likely to bully others if they had three or more siblings, or if they lived with someone other than their parents. Children whose parents worked in professional and managerial jobs seemed less likely to bully than those with parents working in skilled manual jobs.
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Comment

The most important finding here was that children who said they had bullied others came from all social backgrounds. The small differences reported between children whose parents had professional jobs and those who had skilled manual jobs may be explained by one group being more willing to admit to bullying than the other.
(Andrew Mellor)
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Article details

A Mellor (1997) 'Bullying in Scottish Secondary Schools', SCRE Spotlight Number 23. Available from the Anti-Bullying Network and to download online here.
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Author details

Andrew MellorAt the time of the study, Andrew Mellor was a practising teacher who had received funding from the Scottish Education Department to carry out this project. He has been actively involved in anti-bullying work in Scotland for almost 15 years, speaking at conferences, writing for academic and non-academic audiences and running in-service courses for teachers. He is now manager of the Anti-Bullying Network, which is funded by the Scottish Executive and based at The University of Edinburgh.

The findings of a study of children in London schools challenge the view of the bully as someone who is lacking in social skills. It found that bullies are good at understanding social signals. In a bullying situation they may use this to their advantage. Often the main bully in a group will be more socially aware than the children who follow him/her. This ability to read and manipulate social situations is aided by the bully's ability to understand the mental states of peers and also their emotions.
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Article details

J Sutton, P K Smith and J Swettenham (1999) 'Social cognition and bullying: Social inadequacy or skilled manipulation?', in 'British Journal of Developmental Psychology', Volume 17, pages 435-450.
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Author details

Peter SmithProfessor Peter K Smith is Head of the Unit for School and Family Studies, Department of Psychology, Goldsmiths College, London. He has been involved in bullying research for a number of years and has published widely on this topic.

Peter Smith may be contacted by email, and the website of the Unit for School and Family Studies at Goldsmiths College may be found here.

Findings of studies in Norway and Sweden have challenged the view of the typical bully as someone who is lacking in self-confidence. According to these studies a typical bully is not lacking in confidence and is not insecure. It was also found that a bully is more aggressive than his/her peers, has a positive view of violence, has a strong need to dominate and has no real sympathy for others. If the bullies are boys, they would tend to be physically strong. It was also found that bullies often come from homes where there is less warmth and where parents frequently use physical punishment to control their children.
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Article details

H Bøyum, 'National Initiative Against Bullying', in 'Uib Magasinet'. Article found online here. See also D Olweus (1999) 'Sweden', in P K Smith and others (editors), 'The Nature of School Bullying: a cross-national perspective', London: Routledge.
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Professor Dan Olweus was the first person to carry out a thorough research project on Professor Dan Olweusbullying. This large, long term study which began in Sweden in 1970, was to provide the inspiration for many who felt that bullying in schools should be challenged rather than accepted. Since the 1970s, his work in this area had continued with force. Indeed, in 1997-99, he led a group in a large project which introduced the widely respected Olweus (anti-bullying) programme to schools in Norway. Professor Olweus is based at the Research Centre for Health Promotion, University of Bergen in Norway and can be contacted by email.

The results of a study of Australian school children found that personality plays a very important part in the tendency to bully. The findings support the view that bullies are attention seeking, care little for others, are insensitive and have a positive view of violence. It did not find a link between low self-esteem and bullying. It was suggested that the bully might get a sense of power from humiliating others, and this would have the effect of maintaining the level of self-esteem (which is the same as other children).
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Article details

P Slee and K Rigby (1993) 'The Relationship of Eysenck's Personality Factors and Self-esteem to Bully-Victim Behaviour in Australian Schoolboys', in 'Personality and Individual Differences', Volume 14, Number 2, pp 371-373.
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Author details

Ken RigbyKen Rigby is an Adjunct Associate Professor of Social Psychology and an educational consultant at the University of South Australia. He has been involved in major studies of bullying in Australia and has published widely on this topic. For more information about Dr Rigby and his work see the bullying pages here. Ken may be contacted by e-mail.

It has been suggested that there a number of things which can make bullying behaviour more likely. One of the things identified is the child's home background. If you think of bullying as a type of behaviour which can be learned or copied, then it is not surprising to find that there could be a link between a child's bullying behaviour and the aggressive behaviour of parents, brothers and sisters. Anxiety at home (for example caused by the separation of parents) may also contribute to bullying behaviour. It has also been suggested that jealousy could be a major reason for bullying. This could be, for example, jealousy of another child's popularity or academic success. Another possible explanation for bullying is that it is an attempt to build and hold on to a reputation; the bully might see his/her aggressive behaviour as a way of increasing his/her standing in the peer group. The point is made that there is, however, no typical bully and people bully for many different reasons.
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Article details

B Byrne (1995) 'Young People and Bullying', The Irish YouthWork Press, Dublin.
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Author details

Brendan ByrneDr Brendan Byrne has a long-standing interest in the subject of bullying as teacher, guidance counsellor, researcher and author. He currently works as a counsellor at the Coolmine Community School, Dublin. He regularly conducts workshops and seminars for school staff, parents' associations and young people. He was a member of the Government Working Party which drew up guidelines to counter bullying behaviour in schools. His publications include: 'Coping With Bullying in Schools', 'Bullying: a community approach' and 'Young People and Bullying'. He has also collaborated in the publication 'Countering Bullying in the Workplace, Home and School - questions and answers' published March 2004. He can be contacted by email.

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