Motivation and emotion/Book/2013/Bullying and emotion

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Bullying and Emotion:

What role does emotion play in bullying?
What are the emotional affects of bullying?

Epiphany-bookmarks.svg This page is part of the Motivation and emotion book. See also: Guidelines.
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The Reality of Bullying[edit | edit source]

Many people believe that they are educated about bullying, that they understand the consequences of bullying and may even be aware of the systems in place to prevent bullying. However, the reality of the issue of bullying is more confronting, darker and real than one might originally expect. In 2007, a 17 year old student who was frequently taunted by his peers, stabbed six classmates with a razor that was used for sharpening pencils. Two students were killed and four were seriously injured (Huang, 2013). Today, bullying is estimated to impact over one third of students, with the greatest frequency happening in secondary school (Cooper, 2013).

The purpose of this chapter is to examine the impact of emotion on both the bully and the victim and to explain how emotions felt during periods of bullying can have lasting consequences. So whether you are a student wanting more information on bullying, an adult experiencing bullying in the workplace, a concerned parent wanting to be aware of the impact bullying may have on your child, or perhaps even a bully yourself, hopefully you will find the information contained in this chapter useful.

What is Bullying?[edit | edit source]

Bullying involves repeated aggressive acts directed at a target who is at a disadvantage in the exchanges and who does not instigate the attacks (Terranova, 2008). The disadvantages in these exchanges are usually caused from an imbalance of power. An imbalance of power between the victim and the bully can be caused due to a variety of reasons. According to Jose, (2012) this imbalance of power may stem from the victims smaller size or strength in comparison to the bully, the victims affiliation with a minority or unpopular group, the victims fear of the bully, or the beliefs held by the victim which may make them unwilling to stand up for him or herself.

Bullying is a universal phenomenon. Other cultures may not share a single word which captures the Westernised concept of bullying, however bullying is present in nearly all cultures. In China, for example, the word qifu is defined as arrogant and unreasonable treatment of others, involving hitting, slapping, punching, threatening, extorting, isolating, and insulting in order to upset others. Qifu includes both direct and indirect forms of aggression, and can by instigated by an individual or a group of individuals whose purpose is to gain goods, prestige or power. (Huang, 2013)

Shocking Statistics[edit | edit source]

A common misconception is that bullying is declining in our world today, however these statistics unfortunately prove otherwise:

  • Approximately one in four Year 4 to Year 9 Australian students (27%) report being frequently bullied (every few weeks or more) (Department of Education, Training and Employment, 2013).
  • 84% of students who were bullied online were also bullied offline (Department of Education, Training and Employment, 2013).
  • 90% of lesbian, gay and bisexual youths have been verbally or physically harassed (Levasseur, 2013).
  • Peers are present as onlookers in 87% of bullying interactions and play a central role in the bullying process (Department of Education, Training and Employment, 2013).
  • Hurtful teasing is the most prevalent of all bullying behaviours experienced by students, followed by having hurtful lies told about them (Department of Education, Training and Employment, 2013).
  • Youths who report any involvement in bullying are more likely to report seriously considering or attempting suicide (Levasseur, 2013).
  • 60% of bullies in middle school will incur at least one criminal conviction by the age of 24 and a staggering 40% will incur three or more (Garby, 2013).

Types of Bullying[edit | edit source]

There are several different types of bullying. These include (Hunter, 2004; Cooper, 2013; Jose, 2012; Garby, 2013):

  • Verbal Bullying: name calling, teasing.
  • Relational Bullying aka Indirect Bullying: exclusion, spreading rumours.
  • Direct Bullying aka Behavioural: violence, property damage or theft
  • Cyber Bullying: utilising electronic means such as a computer or a phone

From the list of bullying identified above cyber bullying has been found to be least emotionally affecting (Jose, 2012). This may be due to the perceived distance of the bully. The transactional theory of stress and coping, detailed later in the chapter, would suggest that when it comes to this form of bullying, victims may appraise the incident as less personally threatening (Ortega, 2012).

Both verbal and relational bullying involves actions that can be taken without leaving a paper trail or physical scar (Cooper, 2013) and they tend to be the least reported incidents as many people feel they do not have sufficient proof. Studies have shown that participating in one type of bullying does not equal future engagement in other types of bullying (Terranova, 2008), however victims of one type of bullying, have an increased risk of being victims of other types of bullying (Jose, 2012).


Bullying can occur in a variety of different environments, including school and the workplace. Workplace bullying takes place when one or more persons systematically and over time feel that they have been subjected to negative treatment on the part of one or more persons at work, and where the persons exposed to the treatment have difficulty in defending themselves against these actions (Vie, 2012). More information about workplace bullying can be found here: [[1]]

There are several behaviours which do not constitute bullying. These behaviours include, mutual arguments where there is no power imbalance, not liking someone, a single act of social rejection, one-off acts of spite, isolated incidents of violence (Department of Education, Training and Employment, 2013). However, these types of conflicts still need to be resolved.

Gender and Age Differences[edit | edit source]

There are several research findings associated with bullying and gender. Males are generally known to be the more aggressive gender, and considering that bullying is an aggressive act, it is not surprising that males are often more strongly linked to bullying than females. (Huang, 2013; Levasseur, 2013; Garner, 2010) Research suggests that males tend to be victimised through physical aggression and that girls were more likely to experience relational aggression (Garner, 2010). When it comes to seeking help, girls are more willing than boys and it appears that the younger victims of school bullying are more inclined to ask for help than the older students (Hunter, 2004; Levasseur, 2013).

The table below by Hunter (2004), illustrates the role of both gender and age differences from numerous studies examining the use of social support among victims of school bullying.

'Table 1'. Studies examining the use of social support among victims of school bullying (Hunter, 2004).

Study Sample Age Range Findings
Borg (1998) 6,282 Maltese pupils 9-14 Younger pupils more likely than older to seek help from friends, teachers and parents; girls more likely to seek help from best friend or parents, boys more likely to seek help from a friend or teacher
Eslea (2001) 198 English pupils 11-15 16% of pupils reported telling if called names, 22% if rumours spread about them, 25% if physically hurt and 49% if belongings were stolen
Glover (2000) 4,700 English pupils 11-16 Younger pupils more likely than older to seek help; female pupils more likely to seek help than male; telling a friend is most common, followed by mother and then form tutor
Hunter and Boyle (2004) 459 Scottish pupils 9-14 Younger pupils more likely than older to seek help; female pupils more likely to seek help than male
Pateraki and Houndoumadi (2001) 1,312 Greek pupils 9-14 Victims equally likely to ask adults and friends for help; people who are both bullies and victims seem less willing to seek help than victims
Sharp (1995) 703 English pupils 13-16 Younger pupils more likely than older to seek help; female pupils more likely to seek help than male
Smith 413 English pupils 13-16 Female pupils more likely to seek help than male; students most often spoke to parents, followed by friends, teachers, then siblings; students reporting being bullied over 2 year period less likely to have used social support tan pupils resolving bullying over that same period

Emotions and Bullying[edit | edit source]

"Could a scar be like the rings of a tree, reopened with each emotional season?" Magenta Periwrinkle, Cutting Class

Emotions are specific reactions to particular events, existing of several components, including experiential feeling, cognitions and physiological reactions (Vie, 2012). Emotions can vary in intensity and type and they direct our attention to events, stimuli or thoughts as well as organise perceptual and thought processes, activating and motivating most aspects of behaviour. Positive emotions include: enthusiasm, alert social activity and satisfaction. Negative emotions include: being upset or unpleasantly aroused and are linked to stress poor coping and health complaints.

Many emotions may follow the experience of being bullied. These emotions include anxiety, fear, anger, distress, irritability, helplessness, despair, guilt and shame (Vie, 2012). Both the bully and the victim can develop psychological and social maladjustment problems (Jose, 2012).

The Bully[edit | edit source]

Emotions play a role in the way a bully acts both before, during and after a bullying incident. Studies have shown that children who identified as a bully exhibit a variety of externalising behaviours, such as aggression and impulsivity (Huang, 2013). Bullies generally have high self-concept, accompanied with poorer academic performances, inadequate coping skills, trouble with emotional regulation and higher levels of psychoticism including recklessness, interpersonal hostility and antisocial behaviour (Cooper, 2013; Huang, 2013). Bullies often struggle maintaining interpersonal relationships, experience peer rejection and affiliate with anti-social peer groups (Cooper, 2013).

A person who bullies another may exhibit any number of the following behaviours. They may repeatedly tease, imitate, exclude, ignore or make fun of the same target. They also show no compassions for someone who is experiencing bullying and feel the need to dominate or control others (Department of Education, Training and Employment, 2013). Bullies are usually skilled manipulators who use their psychological skills to control the minds of others and cause them distress (Menesini, 2003).

A factor which may put people at risk of developing bullying patterns is low levels of fear reactivity. Fear reactivity involves unpleasant effect, reactivity or avoidance in the presence of new, strange or threatening stimuli (Terranova, 2008). Low fear reactivity is a particularly important risk fact for bullying behaviours as it disrupts the moral development of conscience and empathy. A bully with low fear reactivity are not distressed enough by the potential negative consequences, such as punishment, harm or retaliation, or the inappropriateness of aggression to motivate the avoidance of its use (Terranova, 2008).

The Homophily Hypothesis[edit | edit source]

"Birds of a feather... Flock together!"

Homophily is the tendency of individual people to associate and bond with other people who are similar. Individuals who are in homophilic relationships generally share common characteristics, such as values, education and beliefs, which make communication and relationships form more easily (Huang, 2013). Adolescence is a period where friendships and peer support are essential for development (Cooper, 2013). Generally peer groups are usually formed based on shared similarities. Therefore, according to the homophily hypothesis, students who associate with friends and peers who bully others are more likely to engaged in bullying themselves (Huang, 2013). As this bullying trend progresses into adulthood, bullies are more likely to continue their behaviour in the workplace, become involved in gang membership, misuse substances and have a higher chance of becoming involved in criminal activity (Jose, 2012).

The homophily hypothesis links quite nicely to the Social Identity Theory. This theory assumes that part of an individual’s identity comes from membership of social groups and that people are motivated to find positive differences between their own group and others (Jones, 2012). Social identity mechanisms are important because they affect emotional reactions to bullying. In 2012, Jones conducted a study which investigated a link between group-based emotions (those that take groups rather than individuals as the subject and object of the emotion), action tendencies and group membership in the context of bullying. The results showed that pride was associated with a tendency to affiliate with a bullying group, whereas regret was linked with a disposition to apologise to the target, and anger with the likelihood of telling an adult about the incident (Jones, 2012).

Emotional Display Rule Knowledge[edit | edit source]

Emotional display rule knowledge is concerned with the understanding of the guidelines that govern the expression and management of emotions in social situations and their associated motives (Garner, 2010). This knowledge develops during primary school, as this is usually when children start to understand they can or should conceal their internal feelings by using one of a variety of different strategies, including masking their true emotion, maintaining a neutral facial expression or varying the intensity of their emotional expression (Garner, 2010). Having strong emotional display rule knowledge is a vital part of development. Being emotionally competent requires for people to understand that at times it is necessary to be concerned about other people’s feelings and to try to prevent people from experiencing hurt or harm. Children with low display rule knowledge to tend generate aggressive solutions to conflict, which is how bullies tend to deal with conflict. Children who bully have difficulty accurately perceiving the emotional signals of others, attribute anger to the actions and statements of others when it is not present and show indifference to other children’s displays of negative emotion (Garner, 2010).

Moral Emotions[edit | edit source]

A bullies behaviour is significantly related to their moral understanding of the consequences of their antisocial behaviour, it often appears that bullies may not understand that victimising others for personal gains in morally wrong (Menesini, 2003). The emotions of guilt, shame, indifference and pride are often referred to as moral emotions. Moral emotions serve as an emotional barometer giving people feedback on their social and moral acceptability, they are founded on social relationship in which people not only interact but also evaluate and judge themselves and others (Ttofi, 2008). These emotions are highly correlated to moral behaviour and play a large role in regulating the individuals sense of responsibility towards other people (Menesini, 2003). During a bullying incident the bully may experience guilt or shame for the harm done to the victim or feel proud of his or her success.

Guilt: involves a sense of tension, remorse and regret over a bad action. Guilt is often elicited in an event in which an individual violates the rule that a person should not hurt or disadvantage others. Children who demonstrate higher levels of guilt are more likely to try to repair a negative action. Guilt is usually a less painful feeling than shame as its primary concern is with a particular behaviour (Menesini, 2003).

Shame: Is a highly painful emotion that is normally accompanied by a sense of worthlessness and powerlessness. Shame often induces a desire to flee from the shame-inducing situation. Unlike guilt, shame is not exclusively related to the moral value event, but also to the personal sense of having adopted an ‘unwanted identity’ (Menesini, 2003).

Indifference: If a bully is indifferent to the response of a detrimental behaviour, which is shown through the lack of negative emotions such as guilt or shame, it can reveal the absence of empathy toward the victim (Menesini, 2003).

Pride: is generally considered a positive self-evaluative emotion that occurs in situations where a person is satisfied with their own performance. However, in the case of a bully, the feeling of pride focuses just on personal gains of the bully without considering the consequences for the victim (Menesini, 2003).

A study on the impact of moral emotions on bullying found that bullies differed from victims and the control group (neither bullies or victims) in moral reasoning processes. Bullies showed a higher level of indifference and pride, and a lower level of moral responsibility through guilt and shame, when asked to put themselves in the role of bully in a hypothetical scenario (Ttofi, 2008).

The Victim[edit | edit source]

Bully Free Zone.jpg

Victims of bullying experience a wide range of emotions whilst they are being victimised. However, exploring the emotional experiences which are associated with bullying can be problematic as often high emotions are difficult to verbalise and may not be accessed from consciousness (Tehrani, 2009). The consequences of being bullied during adolescences may extend into adulthood (Cooper, 2013) and persistence of episodes over time is related to an increased emotional impact on mental health (Ortega, 2012). Victims often display high levels of emotions in response to provocation by a bully, however victims who respond to bullying with nonchalance or expressions of neutrality may reduce their chances of being victimised again (Garner, 2010).

Victims of bullying often display internalising behaviours, including lower self-esteem, depression and feeling socially isolated. Victims also display a higher level of neuroticism (Huang, 2013). Bullying is damaging and can lead to a range of psychological disorders including physical conditions and post-traumatic stress (Tehrani, 2009). Irrespective of age or gender bullying victims tend to be more afraid, upset, angry, guilty, hostile, nervous, frustrated, ashamed, stressed and scared then non-victims (Vie, 2012).

Victims of school bullying may experience a range of academic problems which are exhibited by truancy, absenteeism and eventually school dropout (Jose, 2012). Adjustment problems may also occur and these include feelings of rejection, negative self-concept, withdrawal, loneliness, depression, helplessness and a sense that he or she deserves to be bullied (Cooper, 2013). Bullies are equally likely to display positive and negative emotions towards their victims. However often victims lack the ability to interpret the ‘true’ meaning behind these displays and this may signal to the bully that these children can be easily intimidated (Garner, 2010). This may suggest that in some cases, a victim may have a lack of emotion-related knowledge, and may approach peer interactions in ways which provoke negative behaviour, in turn creating a cycle of victimisation and poor emotional understanding (Garner, 2010).

Victims of workplace bullying generally report low levels of job satisfaction and well-being, along with feelings of social isolation, social maladjustment, low self-esteem, sleeping difficulties, concentration problems, chronic fatigue and depression (Vie, 2012).

In 2012, Ortega conducted a study which investigated the emotional impact of cyber victimisation. The results demonstrated the 93% of cyber victims were negatively affected by the bullying incident, with participants reporting feelings of sadness, hopelessness, depression and anxiety. Emotional responses of the victims of chat room bullying were as follows; 41% felt angry, 30% were upset, 20% felt frustrated, 15% vulnerable, 15% felt depressed and lastly 8% reported they felt frightened (Ortega, 2012).

Reducing the Impact - How to Cope[edit | edit source]

StompLOGO 2012 flat Vector.jpg

Coping has been defined as ‘the way people manage life conditions that are stressful’ (Hunter, 2004). A vital element of reducing the emotional impact of bullying on the victims is to tell someone in order for them to help to resolve the situation (Hunter, 2004). Students who are victimised may wish to tell their teachers, parents or guardians. Victims of workplace bullying are encouraged to seek support from their superiors.

Process theories of coping explain the large role that a persons perception of any given situation play in determining coping behaviour (Menesini, 2003). Such perceptions, known as appraisals, include the anticipation of loss or harm, the degree of perceived control over the stressor and the emphasising of potential gains. These appraisals have been shown to be important factors in coping strategy choice in a range of different situations (Menesini, 2003). Being able to correctly appraise the emotions of others may help children to avoid certain forms of peer-related aggression (Garner, 2010). Emotions also play a part in the coping process. In Lazarus’ appraisal model, appraisals influence coping strategies, which in turn influence one’s emotional reaction to events (Menesini, 2003). The more negative emotion people experience when they are being bullied the more they are likely to seek out help in order to deal with those emotions.

A central step in the counselling process is to help victims become aware of their emotional and cognitive reactions associated with bullying. According to Lazarus, being aware of the emotions associated with stressful encounters, such as bullying, creates an opportunity for a reappraisal of the situation, which in turn may help the person to gain control and be more able to cope with the situation (Vie, 2012).

To reduce aggression and violence, workplaces and school communities should focus on developing safe social and physical environments, provide health, counselling and social services and train staff to promote safety (Levasseur, 2013). Researchers have suggested that schools and workplaces should encourage cooperative norms, rather than competitive ones (Jones, 2012).

Test Yourself[edit | edit source]

1 Calling another person fat is an example of which type of bullying:

A – Direct Bullying
B - Verbal Bullying
C - Relational Bullying

2 If you are a cyber bully, you are more likely to also participate in verbal bullying:

A - True
B - False

3 Which of the following responses to bullying may reduce the chances of being victimised again:

A - Sadness
B - Anger
C - Neutrality

For Further Information[edit | edit source]

The following links may be useful for further information:

A final thought "Be kind to everyone, including yourself."

References[edit | edit source]

Cooper, L. (2013). Parent Retrospective Recollections of Bullying and Current Views, Concerns, and Strategies to Cope with Children's Bullying. Journal Of Child & Family Studies, 22(4), 526-540.

Department of Education, Training and Employment. (2013). Bullying! No Way! Retrieved October 20, 2013 from


Garner, P. (2010). Emotional display rules and emotion self-regulation: Associations with bullying and victimization in community-based after school programs. Journal Of Community & Applied Social Psychology, 20(6), 480-496.

Huang, H. (2013). Understanding Factors Associated with Bullying and Peer Victimization in Chinese Schools Within Ecological Contexts. Journal Of Child & Family Studies, 22(7), 881-892.

Hunter, S. (2004). Help seeking amongst child and adolescent victims of peer-aggression and bullying: The influence of school-stage, gender, victimisation, appraisal, and emotion. British Journal Of Educational Psychology, 74(3), 375-390.

Jones, S. (2012). The influence of norms and social identities on children's responses to bullying. British Journal Of Educational Psychology, 82(2), 241-256.

Jose, P. (2012). The Joint Development of Traditional Bullying and Victimization With Cyber Bullying and Victimization in Adolescence. Journal Of Research On Adolescence (Wiley-Blackwell), 22(2), 301-309.

Levasseur, M. A. (2013). Intersecting Identities and the Association Between Bullying and Suicide Attempt Among New York City Youths: Results From the 2009 New York City Youth Risk Behavior Survey. American Journal Of Public Health, 103(6), 1082-1089.

Menesini, E. (2003). Moral emotions and bullying: A cross-national comparison of differences between bullies, victims and outsiders. Aggressive Behavior, 29(6), 515-530.

Ortega, R. (2012). The Emotional Impact of Bullying and Cyberbullying on Victims: A European Cross-National Study. Aggressive Behavior, 38(5), 342-356.

Tehrani, N. (2009). Lost in translation - using bilingual differences to increase emotional mastery following bullying. Counselling & Psychotherapy Research, 9(1), 11-17.

Terranova, A. (2008). Fear reactivity and effortful control in overt and relational bullying: a six-month longitudinal study. Aggressive Behavior, 34(1), 104-115.

Ttofi, M. P. (2008). Reintegrative Shaming Theory, moral emotions and bullying. Aggressive Behavior, 34(4), 352-368.

Vie, T. (2012). How does it feel? Workplace bullying, emotions and musculoskeletal complaints. Scandinavian Journal Of Psychology, 53(2), 165-173.