Bullying – What is the evidence?


Bullying can be defined as a subcategory of interpersonal aggression characterized by intentionality, repetition, and an imbalance of power, often with the element of abuse of power being a primary distinction between bullying and other forms of aggression (Smith & Morita, 1999; Vaillancourt, Hymel, & McDougall, 2003).

Bullying can include direct physical harm (physical bullying), verbal taunts and threats (verbal bullying), exclusion, humiliation, and rumour-spreading (relational or social bullying), and electronic harassment using texts, e-mails, or online mediums (cyberbullying).

Prevalence rates for bullying vary, however research reveals that between 10% and 33% of school children are victimised, and 5% – 12% of children bully (Cassidy, 2009; Kessel Schneider, O’Donnell, Stueve, & Coulter, 2012; Perkins, Craig, & Perkins, 2011). Developmentally, peer bullying is evident as early as preschool, peaking during early high school, then declining towards the end of high school (Currie et al., 2012; Vaillancourt, Trinh, et al., 2010).

The World Health Organisation report that overall peer victimisation has been decreasing over previous years (Currie et al., 2012), however cyber bullying is increasing (Jones, Mitchell, & Finkelhor, 2013). One reason put forward is that students are often aware of rules prohibiting physical harm to others, but find verbal and social bullying more difficult to identify (Hymel & Swearer, 2015).

Current Research:

Current research reveals that bullies are socially intelligent (Björkqvist, Österman, & Kaukiainen, 2000) and can have considerable status in their peer groups (Vaillancourt et al., 2003). As such, adults may be less able to recognize bullying perpetrated by students who appear to be socially competent, well-functioning individuals. Interventions should emphasise the interaction of individual vulnerabilities, context effects, and experiences with bullying and victimization. This includes understanding and addressing bullying as a systemic problem (Swearer & Hymel, 2015), and having schools implement school-wide, universal antibullying programs (Bradshaw, 2015).


Take a look our top resources on tackling Bullying here.


Björkqvist, K., Österman, K., & Kaukiainen, A. (2000). Social intelligence – empathy = aggression? Aggression and Violent Behavior, 5, 191–200.

Bradshaw, C. P. (2015). Translating research to practice in bullying prevention. American Psychologist, 70, 322–332.

Cassidy, T. (2009). Bullying and victimisation in school children: The role of social identity, problem-solving style, and family and school context. Social Psychology of Education, 12, 63–76.

Currie, C., Zanotti, C., Morgan, A., Currie, D., DeLooze, M., Roberts, C., . . . Barnekow, V. (2012). Social determinants of health and well-being among young people. Health Behaviour in School-aged Children (HBSC) study: International report from the 2009/2010 survey. Health Policy for Children and Adolescents, No. 6. Copenhagen, Denmark: WHO Regional Office for Europe.

Hymel, S., & Swearer, S. M. (2015). Four decades of research on school bullying: An introduction.American Psychologist, 70(4), 293.

Jones, L. M., Mitchell, K. J., & Finkelhor, D. (2013). Online harassment in context: Trends from three youth internet safety surveys (2000, 2005, 2010). Psychology of Violence, 3, 53–69.

Kessel Schneider, S., O’Donnell, L., Stueve, A., & Coulter, R. W. C. (2012). Cyberbullying, school bullying, and psychological distress: A regional census of high school students. American Journal of Public Health, 102, 171–177.

Perkins, H. W., Craig, D. W., & Perkins, J. M. (2011). Using social norms to reduce bullying: A research intervention among adolescents in five middle schools. Group Processes & Intergroup Relations, 14, 703–722.

Smith, P. K., & Morita, Y. (1999). Introduction. In P. K. Smith, Y. Morita, J. JungerTas, D. Olweus, R. Catalano, & P. Slee (Eds.), The nature of school bullying: A cross-national perspective (pp. 1–4). London, UK: Routledge.

Swearer, S. M., & Hymel, S. (2015). Understanding the psychology of bullying: Moving toward a social-ecological diathesis–stress model. American Psychologist, 70, 344–353.

Vaillancourt, T., Hymel, S., & McDougall, P. (2003). Bullying is power: Implications for school-based intervention strategies. Journal of Applied School Psychology, 19, 157–176.

Vaillancourt, T., Trinh, V., McDougall, P., Duku, E., Cunningham, L., Cunningham, C.,…Short, K. (2010). Optimizing population screening of bullying in school-aged children. Journal of School Violence, 9, 233–250.






Tim is a Clinical and Counselling Psychologist, currently based in London. He has extensive experience working with a children and teenagers with individual, additional and complex needs. He has a detailed understanding of challenging behaviours and enjoys direct treatment, multi disciplinary team work, family coaching and systemic intervention and training. He as a passion for research and plans to complete a PHD in the future.

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