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Social Influence on Bullying in Schools Research Paper



There is no globally agreed definition of bullying. Tattum (1993) defines bullying as, “the desire to hurt or put someone under pressure”.

Bullying is the most malicious and malevolent form of deviant behavior widely practiced in schools and yet it has received only scant attention from national and local authorities (Tattum & Lane, 1998).

The vast cases of bullying take place in on school premises and most students in playgrounds are affected (Whitney and Smith, 1993). It is therefore vital to understand better the interactions and activities of students in schools in order to place specific behaviors like bullying into context.

Over the past two decades, there has been a growing awareness of the extent of bullying in schools. Research in this area, inspired by the work of Olweus in Scandinavia, has done much to focus attention on characteristics of bullies and victims.

A good deal of research on bullying in schools has developed around a concern with personality and other individual attributes of bullies and the victims. This is obviously vital but can sometimes obscure the situational and social influences on bullying behaviors (Blatchford, 1993).

The fact is that most bullying in schools goes undetected for the very good reason that the victims are too terrified to report their suffering for fear of reprisals which can often be brutal (Pepler, Rigby, & Smith, 2004).

The characteristics which typify a student who is being regularly bullied are known to us. Once a student has fallen foul of the bullying menace, and demonstrates that he will not ‘split’, the bullying becomes more intense and the ensuing terror increases (Pepler, Rigby, & Smith, 2004).

Social Influences of Bullying Behaviors

Much has been written about the reciprocal interplay among the individual, family, peer group, school, community and cultural influences on human behavior (Espelage & Swearer, 2011). Social dominance theory, Demographics, School and Family characteristics are very strong factors which affects the behavior of bullying in schools.

Social Dominance Theory

A social biological or evolutionary perspective offers a view of peer harassment through the social dominance theory (Sanders & Phye, 2004). The theory helps us to understand that the behavior of bullying has to do with the bully-victim interaction with the individual who bullies (Sanders & Phye, 2004).

According to Pellegrini & Long (2002), social dominance theory is, “harassing or bullying behavior which occurs to force someone into a position of submission, which can especially be seen in boys during the transition from primary to secondary schools as they figure out the new social hierarchy”.

According to this theory the evidently stronger students in any school will tend to dominate over the weaker ones (Sanders & Phye, 2004). This is the core reason why physical bullying has to do with the size and strength of an individual subjecting his colleagues to bullying (Carney & Merrell, 2001).

The theory helps us to understand why the stronger members of the school population are likely to “rule” over the weaker members of the school as described in the social hierarchy concept in the theory (Sanders & Phye, 2004).

For example, within-groups aggression can take place in the context of the school as a whole, a grade within the school, a particular classroom within a grade, or a friendship group (Sanders & Phye, 2004).

One clear method of establishing social hierarchies and status within groups is through the use of aggression (Sanders & Phye, 2004).

Perhaps aggressive students are admired by peers because rather that threatening group cohesion they actually promote a clear hierarchical organization within the groups (Sanders & Phye, 2004).

This theoretical approach sheds some light on why the aggressive victim group of students is so disliked and rejected by classmates (Sanders & Phye, 2004).

These are the students who have the capacity to destabilize the hierarchy, thus making individual group members feel uncomfortable (Sanders & Phye, 2004).

Aggressive students have been found to attack both weaker and stronger individuals, whereas “pure” bullies most frequently bully weaker students (Sanders & Phye, 2004).

Social dominance theory provides rationale for occurrence of peer harassment across the lifespan (Sanders & Phye, 2004). However, an evolutionary/developmental approach to this theory can explain why using peer harassment as a means to establish social hierarchies might be especially prevalent and important during adolescence (Sanders & Phye, 2004).

Demographics and Bullying

Demographic factors such as family, self-esteem, peers, ethnicity and socio-economic status also have an impact on the bullying behavior in schools.

Students who portray low self-esteem are usually at great risk of being bullied and being forced to submission to the aggressive individuals (Hinduja & Patchin, 2010).

However, it must be pointed out that, self-esteem is not the key factor that makes a student to be victimized. There is simply a correlation between low self esteem and being a bullied.

The way children are taken care of by their parents is also a contributing factor to bullying behaviors in schools. According to Wang, et al. (2009), “higher parental involvement led to children being less involved in all forms of bullying”.

Wang, et al also notes that, parents who have over protective behaviors for their children and also over involved in their children’s affairs predisposes their children to bullying victimization at school (Juvomen & Graham, 2001).

Friendship also affects bullying behaviors in schools. A student with more friends is likely to be less physically, verbally and relationally bullied. On the other hand, a student with few friends is more likely to be physically, verbally and relationally bullied (Wang et al., 2009).

Socio-economic status is also a factor which leads to bullying behaviors in schools. A survey conducted by National Association of Health Education Centers in 2004 found that, students from low socio-economic status families in Black/Hispanic schools were more likely to be bullies.

There is high correlation between being a bullying victim and the socio-economic status of the student’s family. Due et al. (2009) asserts that, “Adolescents who attend schools with larger economic inequality among students, and adolescents who live in countries with larger economic inequality, are at elevated risk of being victims of bullying” (p. 907).

School and Family Characteristics Associated With Bullying

Because school culture varies by individual schools and school climate is created by staff and student attitudes, it logically follows that school and family characteristics are linked to bullying and victimization (Espelage & Swearer, 2011).

A study conducted by Kasen and Cohen helps us to understand bullying at the school level (Kasen& Cohen, 1990). Through their study this authors reveals to us the impact of school climate on the intersection of personality and bullying.

They concluded that students who are bullied perceive less social support in their peers and students who are bullying perceive less social support from parents and teachers (Espelage & Swearer, 2011).


It is imperative that the role of social support is an important contextual factor in bullying prevention and intervention programming (Espelage & Swearer, 2011).

The research base regarding bullying has grown exponentially since Dan Olweus’ pioneering intervention research in the late 19th Century. However, the field is still in a relatively early phase of development (Espelage & Swearer, 2011).

Several types of measures have been developed to assist school professionals in monitoring the progress of bullying interventions (Espelage & Swearer, 2011).

It is recommended that practitioners and educators work together to identify a set of measures for determining the most effective school based bully based prevention programs.


Blatchford, P. (1998). Playtime in the primary School: Problems and Improvements. Windsor: NFER-Nelson.

Carney, A.G. & Merrell, K.W. (2001). Bullying in schools: Perspectives on understanding and preventing this international problem. School Psychology International, 22(3), 364-382.

Espelage, D. and Swearer, M. (2011).Bullying in North American Schools. New York: Routledge publishers.

Juvomen, J. and Graham, S. (2001). Peer harassment in schools. New York: The Guilford Press.

Kasen, S., Johnson, J. and Cohen, P. (1990). The impact of school emotional climate on student’s psychopathology. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 18(1), 165- 177.

Namie, G. and Namie, R. (2011). The bully-free work place: stop jerks, weasels, and snakes from killing your organization. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons.

Pellegrini, A. and Long, J. (2002). A longitudinal study of bullying, dominance, and victimization during the transition from primary school through secondary school. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 20(2), 259-280.

Pepler, D., Rigby, K. and Smith, P. (2004). Bullying in schools: how successful can interventions be? Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Sanders, C. and Phye, G. (2004). Bullying: implications for the classroom. San Diego, Califonia: Elsevier Press.

Schaffer, A. (2008). The impact of the word bully and providing the definition of bullying on the reported rate of bullying behavior. USA: ProQuest.

Tattum, D. (1993). Bullying: Understanding and managing bullying. London: Heinermann publishers.

Tattum, D. and Lane, D. (1998). Bullying in schools. London: Trentham Books Limited.

Wang, J., Iannotti, R., and Nansel, T. (2009). School bullying among adolescents in the United States: physical, verbal, relational, and cyber. Journal of Adolescent Health, 45(4), 368-375.

Whitney, I. and Smith, P. (1993). A survey of nature and extent of bullying in junior and secondary schools. Educational Research, 35(3), 25.

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