In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Bullying

  • Introduction
  • General Overview
  • Historical Perspective
  • Prevalence, Location, and Duration
  • Bullying Roles
  • Cyberbullying
  • Gender and Identity-Based Bullying
  • Role of Leadership in Prevention and Intervention

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Education Bullying
James O'Higgins Norman, Keith Sullivan
  • LAST REVIEWED: 21 April 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 June 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756810-0185


Bullying is both a psychological and a sociological phenomenon that occurs among human beings who live, work, and study together. Although certain individuals are more likely to bully (psychological), the context in which they exist (sociological) can also contribute toward an environment in which bullying is more acceptable. Young people are rarely bullied because they are perceived to be the same as everyone else; they are often bullied because they stand out in their environment for being different in some way from their peers. This reality points to the need for schools to promote an understanding and appreciation for diversity among young people. Research shows that levels of bullying and other forms of discrimination decrease when young people are provided with an opportunity to reflect on difference as a positive aspect of life. The current geopolitical context challenges us more than ever before to promote inclusion and address discrimination as a form of bullying in our schools, workplaces, and wider society.

General Overview

Bullying as a form of human aggression occurs in organizations, workplaces, voluntary groups, universities, and particularly in schools (Lutgen-Sandvik, et al. 2016; Datta, et al. 2016; Lapidot-Lefler and Dolev-Cohen 2015; and McGuire 2013). Bullying is a problem that transcends social boundaries and can result in devastating psychological and emotional trauma, such as low self-esteem, poor academic performance, depression, and, in some cases, violence, and suicidal behavior (Smith 2014). There is no universally agreed definition for bullying. However, bullying is generally understood as a form of aggressive behavior characterized by three core elements: (1) it is aggressive behavior or intentional “harm doing,” (2) is carried out repeatedly and over time, and (3) occurs in an interpersonal relationship characterized by an imbalance of power. In addition, the bullying behavior often occurs without apparent provocation, and negative actions can be carried out by physical contact, words, intentional exclusion from a group, or other ways, such as making faces or mean gestures (Del Barrio, et al. 2008). When assessing behavior that might be considered to be bullying, it is important to evaluate the extent to which intent, repetition, and an imbalance of power exist; otherwise, no matter how conflictual or aggressive the encounter is, it may not be considered to be bullying. However, some researchers argue that a one-off event can also be considered to be bullying if there is a threat that it may be repeated (Gladden, et al. 2014). Hamarus and Kaikkonen 2008 argues, depending on which definition of bullying is used, only acts that conform to a particular definition are identified and labeled as bullying, thus excluding whole aspects of conflict and aggression that also may occur. The definition and related self-report questionnaire in the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program (created by Dan Olweus in 2007) has been used extensively in international research. However, this approach has been critiqued from the point of view that it does not account for nuances in different cultural meanings and terminology associated with the concept of bullying. For example, Smith, et al. 2002 alludes to the fact that the term ijime is used in Japan as a bullying equivalent, but the term implies less of a focus on physical violence and a greater emphasis on social manipulation. This has implications for those who are being asked to create policies and procedures that include definitions of bullying. The core challenge here for organizations, workplaces, and schools is how to develop a workable definition that sufficiently covers various types of aggressive behavior. This article examines and outlines the phenomenon of bullying by exploring historical developments that have led to the current theoretical approach to the problem as it occurs in early-21st-century society. It considers both the psychological and sociological aspects of bullying while suggesting strategies for prevention and intervention in the educational and workplace settings.

  • Datta, Pooja, Dewey Cornell, and Francis Huang. 2016. Aggressive attitudes and prevalence of bullying bystander behavior in middle school. Psychology in the Schools 53.8: 804–816.

    DOI: 10.1002/pits.21944

    This article explores the reinforcement of bullying behavior augmented by pro-aggressive attitudes and the role of bystander students. The findings suggest this can be counteracted by implementing anti-bullying programs that promote positive bystander intervention.

  • Del Barrio, Christina, Elena Martín, Ignacio Montero, Héctor Gutiérrez, Ángela Barrios, and María José de Dios. 2008. Bullying and social exclusion in Spanish secondary schools: National trends from 1999 to 2006. International Journal of Clinical and Health Psychology 8:657–677.

    This paper reports on a national longitudinal study on bullying in schools in Spain.

  • Gladden, R. M., A. M. Vivolo-Kantor, M. E. Hamburger, and C. D. Lumpkin. 2014. Bullying surveillance among youths: Uniform definitions for public health and recommended data elements, Version 1.0. Atlanta: National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the United States Department of Education.

    This report provides background on the problem of bullying, including what is known in the early 2010s about the public health burden of bullying and the need for a uniform definition of bullying.

  • Hamarus, Päivi, and Pauli Kaikkonen. 2008. School bullying as a creator of pupil peer pressure. Educational Research 50.4: 333–345.

    DOI: 10.1080/00131880802499779

    This article explores the phenomenon of school bullying within a social and cultural framework, which also provides a new way of understanding pupils’ social relationships.

  • Lapidot-Lefler, Noam, and Michal Dolev-Cohen. 2015. Comparing cyberbullying and school bullying among school students: Prevalence, gender, and grade level differences. Social Psychology of Education 18.1: 1–16.

    DOI: 10.1007/s11218-014-9280-8

    This article compares the phenomenon of cyberbullying and school bullying. The findings of the research are based on the study of 465 junior high and high school students in Israel and reveals that cyberbullying is less common than school bullying.

  • Lutgen-Sandvik, Pamela, Jacqueline N. Hood, and Ryan P. Jacobson. 2016. The impact of positive organizational phenomena and workplace bullying on individual outcomes. Journal of Managerial Issues 28.1–2: 30–49.

    This article examines in tandem positive organization scholarship (POS) and counterproductive workplace behavior (CWB) with two goals. The first looks at positive interpersonal work experiences; the second explores the effects of negative behavior, such as bullying, on positive organizational features.

  • McGuire, Lian. 2013. Third-level student experiences of bullying in Ireland. In Bullying in Irish education. Edited by Mona O’Moore and Paul Stevens, 100–123. Cork, Ireland: Cork Univ. Press.

    This chapter presents the first definitive study of bullying in higher education in Ireland. It explores the various types of bullying, where it can take place, and by whom, offering strategies for prevention and intervention.

  • Olweus Bullying Prevention Program. Hazeldene Foundation.

    This resource was developed by Dan Olweus in 2007 and has been used throughout the world as a form of bullying prevention and intervention in schools. It relies on a specific definition and a self-reporting questionnaire.

  • Smith, Peter K. 2014. Understanding school bullying: Its nature and prevention strategies. London: SAGE.

    DOI: 10.4135/9781473906853

    In chapter 5 of this book, Who is at risk, and what are the effects?, the author outlines who is at risk of being bullied and what the possible effects are on them.

  • Smith, Peter K., Helen Cowie, Ragnar F. Olafsson, et al. 2002. Definitions of bullying: A comparison of terms used, and age and gender differences, in a fourteen-country international comparison. Child Development 73.4: 1119–1133.

    DOI: 10.1111/1467-8624.00461

    This article explores how children understand the meaning of the English word “bullying” in fourteen different countries. Twenty-five cartoon stick-figures of social situations between peers were shown to eight- and fourteen-year-old students in order to investigate whether each country’s native terms equaled the English equivalent.

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