Motivation and emotion/Book/2016/Bullying and social needs
What is the role of social needs for bullies and victims?
|Warning: If you are experiencing bullying please talk to a family member, friend or professional. Contact numbers can be found in the external links at the end of this chapter.|
|A young girl in her first term of Year 7 walked toward her mother, who was waiting in the car, at the end of the school day. As she got closer her mother could tell something was not right. When she got into the car, she was clearly upset. Her mother asked her what was wrong, and she started crying.
The young girl proceeded to recall an incident that happened at the lockers earlier that day. She told her mother how, when she was at her locker that she was confronted by five girls. The girls had surrounded her, as she knelt down to get her books, so that she could not move away from them. They proceeded to taunt her, with one girl – the ringleader - yelling abusively at her.
She recalled that as she attempted to stand up, the ringleader proceeded to push her back down. The ringleader was smaller in statute, and was not known for her sporting or academic abilities, but nevertheless, at this time she was intimidating. With no clear sight of how to escape the taunts, the young girl started crying. She expressed to her mother - “Mum, I couldn’t help it, I just started crying”.
There were other girls around, but they chose to ignore the incident, possibly from fear of being targeted. Alternatively, it may have been that they simply accepted this as "normal" school behaviour.
This type of incident, and many other ones similar are all too common, with other such case studies very similar . What motivates an individual, or group of individuals, to behave in such a way? Why are some people targets and others not? Why do those that are bullied react the way they do? And, why do some people stand by and watch it happen?
Bullying is a social issue as it is based on social interactions and inter-personal relationships (Department of Education and Training, 2015). The origins of bullying can be traced back to 1538, where it was used to describe someone who was "cruel to others who are weaker" (Volk, Dane & Marini, 2014, p. 328). Exposure to bullying has shown to have a correlation with psychological illnesses such as depression, anxiety, eating disorders and suicide intentions (Department of Education and Training, 2015). Within the school social system, bullying gets significant attention, possibly as it at this developmental stage that younger children start to "interpret, reproduce and become part of the social order around them" (Department of Education and Training, 2015, p. 15). Yet bullying is also prominent in the workplace and as Trepanier, Fernet and Austin (2015) highlight theiris an increasing occurrence of bullying in the workplace that it is having "damaging effects on both employees and the organisation" (p. 105).
Needs Theory, as proposed by McClelland (1967), focuses on three dominant needs that motivate individuals. These three needs provide a framework in which to consider the behaviours evident in bullying. This analysis will help support an informed understanding of the drivers and therefore the role of social needs of bullies and the victims of bullying.
What is bullying?
Definition of bullying
Bullying is “an act of intentional aggression involving the selection of specific targets by bullies for specific reasons” (Wong, Cheng & Chen, 2013, p. 278). The term aggression should not be confined solely to physical aggression. According to Farrington (1993, as cited in Ireland & Ireland, 2003), more common definitions include that for behaviours should include those that are physical, psychological or verbal.
Interestingly, bullying is defined differently across age groups, such that adults provide a more comprehensive definition than children (Naylor, Cowie, Cossin, de Betterncourt & Lemme, 2006), possibly as a reflection of social experience.
In an attempt to provide more rigour and consistency to the definition of bullying, a literature review conducted by Goldsmid and Howie (2014) identified five criteria that were most common across all age groups, these include:
- Repetition – the behaviour must be repeated;
- Intentional – as opposed to an unintentional or accidental act;
- Power inequity – one party is in a position of power relative to the other that is either physical, psychological, hierarchical or economical;
- Victim distress – ranging from what might be identified as annoying behaviour to behaviour that is more acute and harmful; and
- Provocation – influence or coercion from another person which could include the victim.
One of the most commonly cited definitions for bullying in the empirical research is that provided by Olweus, 1993 (as cited in Volk, Dane & Marini, 2014, p. 328):
"It is a negative action when someone intentionally inflicts injury or discomfort upon another, basically what is implied in the definition of aggressive behaviour. Negative actions can be carried out by physical contact, by words, or in other ways, such as making faces or mean gestures, and intentional exclusion from a group..... In my definition, the phenomenon of bullying is thus characterized by the following criteria: it is aggressive behaviour or intentional 'harm doing,' which is carried out repeatedly and over time in an interpersonal relationship characterized by an imbalance of power."
Prevalence of bullying
Bullying is not confined to an age group or culture. It occurs in school, outside of school, and in the workplace, within Australia, and abroad.
"Slightly more than 1 in 3 students between the ages of 13 and 15 worldwide experience bullying on a regular basis." - United Nations Children's Fund
Within the school environment Cross et al. (2009) identified that approximately 29 percent of children in Years Four to Nine, were subject to bullying on a regular basis and 9 percent report that they bully others. The highest was for students in Year Five, at approximately 32 percent (Cross et al., 2009). Approximately 70 percent of teachers identify that a student reported a bullying incident to them in a school term (Cross et al., 2009).
Cross et al., (2009) identifies:
In addition, Cross et al., (2009) report that when students were asked their opinion on why people bullied, responses included that the bully:
"All work health and safety laws in Australia recognise workplace bullying as a work heath and safety issue with the responsibility to prevent workplace bullying covered by the primary duty of care held by employers." - Safe Work Australia
According to Safe Work Australia (2012), when provided with a precise definition of bullying, the reported occurrence of bullying in the workplace is between one to four percent. However, when individuals are provided with an open question such as, 'have your ever been bullied in the workplace?', this increases to 10-25 percent (Safe Work Australia, 2012).
The increase in workplace bullying is reflecting in workplace mental health claims. Safe Work Australia (2015) identify that while mental health claims reduced between 2001-02 and 2011-12, bullying claims actually increased. In 2011-12 bullying claims comprised 21.5 percent of all mental health claims (Safe Work Australia, 2015).
The majority of reported incidents of bullying include verbal assault. More precisely, being yelled at or sworn at in the workplace - over 33 percent - followed largely by being humiliated in front of co-workers - over 22 percent (Safe Work Australia, 2012). These figures are similar to the school environment, with interpersonal bullying behaviours most common and often more damaging to psychological health of victims.
The impact of bullying
Several studies have highlighted the long-term negative health impacts of bullying on children and adults (Department of Education and Training, 2015; Safe Work Australia, 2014; Commonwealth of Australia, 2012; Sharkey, et al, 2015; Cross, Shaw, Hearn, Epstein, Monks, Lester & Thomas, 2009).
In young children and adolescents, bullying has been linked to health issues, both physical and psychological, behavioural issues and poor academic achievement (Turner, Finkelhor, Shattuck, Hamby & Mitchell, 2014). Children subject to bullying, and those that are engaged in bullying others, are reported to be more likely to suffer from depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and socially withdrawal (United Nations Children’s Fund, 2014).
In the workplace, bullying and harassment has been linked to increases in the incidence of anxiety, burnout, and reduced self-esteem, job satisfaction and commitment to the organisation (Bowling & Beehr, 2006). The Commonwealth of Australia, House of Representatives report, Workplace bullying: we just want it to stop, (2012), estimates that bullying costs “the Australian economy between $6 billion and $36 billion annually” (p. 10).
Which group of people is most likely to be bullied? Studies suggest that most people who are bullied are termed passive victims (Wolke, 2015). It is those people who are sensitive, quiet, withdrawn, shy , anxious and insecure about themselves are the ones who are usually targeted when it comes to bullying (Wolke, 2015).
What motivates bullying behaviour? - McClelland's theory of needs
David McClelland proposed that “motives drive, orient and select behaviour” (McClelland, 1987, p. 226). McClelland (1967) considered the link between motivation and behaviour and proposed that individuals are motivated by the "desires for social approval, power, or knowledge " (p. 39) and the strength of this is different for individuals. To test this, he sought to arouse motives in participants and then test their "spontaneous thoughts" (McClelland, 1967, p. 39). This was undertaken by asking participants to write a story to describe what was occurring in a picture (known also as the Thematic Apperception Test).
McClelland proposed three key motives were driving behaviour. These were the need for, achievement, affiliation and power. It is the basis of these that McClelland's work is often referred to as the Three Needs Theory.
Therefore, when seeking to better understand the role of social needs for bullies, and victims of bullying, McClelland's Needs Theory provides a valuable framework. It is from here a more informed understanding that interventions and prevention can be better targeted.
"Bullying consists of the least competent most aggressive employee projecting their incompetence on to the least aggressive most competent employee and winning." ― Tim Field
Characteristics common in individuals high in achievement motivation include striving to accomplish or master something of significant difficultly, and doing so to a high standard (McClelland, 1987). Additional behavioural characteristics include, manipulating to achieve a high level of mastery and rivalry, so as to surpass others (McClelland, 1987). Individuals that are high in the need for achievement are found to be just as focused on the possibility of failure, as they are on success (McClelland, 1987). Indeed, it is this fear of failure that can produce significant stress and anxiety (McClelland, 1987).
Individuals high in achievement motivation are less likely to consider others as they pursue their goals, and they are less able to identify how others perceive their behaviour (McClelland, 1987).
Considering these characteristics, individuals with a high motive for achievement may be easily threatened by another person, especially where that person’s performance puts their achievement at risk. Additionally, they could be easily threatened in an environment that has a high level of competition. Children high in achievement motivation have been found to be more likely to cheat, in an attempt to reach a goal, where there is a level of competition (McClelland, 1987). Similarly, bullies use aggression as a way to compete for, or maintain, social status with their peers (Pellegrini, Bartini & Brooks, 1999).
Bowling and Beehr's (2006) meta-analysis identified that workplace bullying is common in environments where there is conflict over what needs to be achieved, ambiguity, workplace constraints and competition. Environments that reduced the opportunity for autonomy also had a higher rate of bullying (Bowling & Beehr, 2006). In these workplace environments, individuals with high achievement needs are constrained. As such, it is more likely that levels of frustration would be present and therefore a greater inclination to engage in bullying behaviours. It would be expected that high need achievement individuals would also engage in bullying behaviours to impede their rivals performance, making their chances of achievement greater (Tuckey et al., 2009).
In examining the incident of bullying and its relationship with workplace factors, Tuckey et al. (2009) identified that in jobs where individuals had little control over their work, where the work was challenging, and where resource support was low, there were higher incidents of bullying. Individuals with a high need for achievement when in an environment that restricts or places their need for achievement at risk, could become easily threatened and react negatively. Specifically, as identified from Tuckey et al. (2009), these work environments raise “employee arousal and lowering of the threshold for anger, aggression, and conflict” (p. 228). The result is the demonstration of behaviours such as anger and frustration projected at the immediate work group, or at others (Tuckey et al., 2009).
"You should be nicer to him,' a schoolmate had once said to me of some awfully ill-favored boy. 'He has no friends.' This, I realized with a pang of pity that I can still remember, was only true as long as everybody agreed to it." ― Christopher Hitchens, Hitch-22: A Memoir
The need for affiliation is associated with characteristics that include seeking to be near other individuals, those that are similar to the person, or seeking to be near others that ‘like’ the person (McClelland, 1987). McClelland (1987) also identifies behaviours such as attempting to win the affection of another/others, or seeking to please. Pellegrini, Bartini, and Brooks (1999) expand this by defining affiliation need as seeking to gain the approval of others.
Pellgerini, Bartini and Brooks (1999) examined the extent to which the need for affiliation, more specifically the motivation to be near others that are similar, applied to both bullies and victims. They identified dominant friendship groups in so far that bullies associated more with other bullies, and victims associated more with other victims (Pellegrini, Bartini & Brooks, 1999). Effectively, bullies “had reciprocal friendships mostly among other bullies” (Pellegrini, Bartini & Brooks, 1999, p. 222). This finding helps explain why it is not unusual that there is more than one person doing the bullying. It also reinforces that the social need for bullies to seek company of other bullies, and victims to seek the company of other victims.
Individuals high in the need for affiliation also “dislike a person whose views differ from their own” (Byrne, 1961b, as cited in McClelland, 1987, p. 356). Interestingly, Pellegrini, Bartini and Brooks (1999) identified that the attitudes of both bullies and their victims, towards bullying, were similar. The findings of Nickerson and Mele-Taylor (2014) reinforce this, as they identified that students who had friends that were bullies, had attitudes that supported the bullying behaviour, and were also more likely to be involved in bullying themselves. In general, it appears that the motivation for affiliation with others, drives individuals to seek consistency with others in their views and behaviours.
Individuals with a high need for affiliation seek to please and will perform better when their is an affiliation incentive (McClelland, 1987). Evidence identifies that when using self-report measures for bullying, over half of the students reporting identify as a defender of bullying victims (Nickerson and Mele-Taylor, 2014). Interestingly, this figure is below national reports, where less than half of the witnesses to bullying intervened (Department of Education and Training, 2015). The motivation of individuals in self-reports appears to be that they seek to see themselves agreeing with social expectations and not letting others down (Nickerson and Mele-Taylor, 2014), particularly where social conventions are anti-bullying.
Those high in the need for affiliation also seek social environments that have positive interpersonal relationships (McClelland, 1987). While seeking conformity is not recognised as a dominant behaviour, individuals high in affiliation do seek to avoid conflict (McClelland, 1987). This characteristic would help explain the behaviours of bystanders, or observers, to bullying incidents and their tendency not to intervene. For victims of bullying there is evidence to suggest that having friends who are bullies also provides some social protection against being bullied, effectively avoiding conflict (Pellegrini, Bartini & Brooks, 1999). This is reinforced by Farmer, Hall, Leung, Estell and Brooks (2011), where students that identified as a victim of bullying had low social status with their peers. Victims of bullying high in the need for affiliation may be motivated to seek a broad and varied set of friendships so as to act as a protection from negative interpersonal relationships and conflict.
Finally, those high in the need for affiliation may use this as a protection against bullying. Pellegrini, Bartini and Brooks (1999) identified that in general, where individuals were popular and had a variety of friends, and were liked by others, there was correlation with lower report of being bullied. Similarly, Visconti, Sechler and Kochenderfer-Ladd (2013) identified that were social status was similar between a bully and their victim, the victim is more likely to defend themselves.
"Those in powerless positions aren't about to complain about bullying bosses, abusive supervisors and corrupt co-workers. There is no safe way to do so and no process that promises redress." ― Margaret Heffernan
Individuals with a high need for power tend to display characteristics that include the need to control, influence and direct the behaviour of others. This is mostly achieved through behaviour that includes commanding, persuasion and suggestion (McClelland, 1987). They are more likely to surround themselves with others that they can easily direct and control, and those that generally are not as well-known as they are seeking to ingratiate themselves with the dominant individual with positive and reinforcing comments (McClelland, 1987). Ultimately, individuals with a high need for power seek to stand-out in a group and like to have people around them, “who respect them and are loyal supporters” (McClelland, 1987, p. 286).
Bullies with a high need for power target individuals that are vulnerable due to their lower social status, or atypical characteristics (Wong, Cheng & Chen, 2013). According to Wong et al. (2013), vulnerable students, those that may be considered introverted, shy or have an obvious physical or mental disability, become easy targets for bullies due to their obvious power imbalance. This makes it easier for bullies with a high need for power to achieve elevated social standing in their peer group (Wong et al., 2013). Bullying is considered to be largely associated with, “establishing social status or procuring benefits” (Wong et al., 2013).
This high need for power that is often evident in bullying, is also largely independent of demographics (Turner, Finkelhor, Shattuck, Hamby & Mitchell, 2014). Generally speaking, individuals with a high need for power that engage in bullying are not easily identifiable due to their age group, culture and socio-economic status.
Surprisingly, victims of bullying don’t readily identify with a power imbalance in their situation. Others around them, such as teachers and bystanders, this power imbalance is more obvious (Department of Education and Training, 2015). Where individuals that identify as a victim of bullying do associate with a power imbalance, it is largely where the form of bullying involves physical, verbal, relational or sexual incidents (Turner et al., 2014). However, Turner et al. (2014) did identify that even where a power imbalance is not recognised by a victim of bullying, there was still a negative impact on that individual such as missing school and feeling fearful. It is clear that the lack of a recognised power imbalance by a victim of bullying "does not shield victims from negative effects” (Turner, et al., 2014, p. 375).
The high need for power that is evident as a driver for bullying continues into the workplace. Tuckey, Dollard, Hosking and Winefield (2009) considered the incident of bullying within the policing occupation. Tuckey et al. (2009) identified that where bullying had occurred, it was largely by those higher ranking officers. The workplace context is also provide individuals with a high need for power to seek to control and direct others. Katrinli, Atabay, Gunay and Cangarli, (2010) identified that the need for power was the single most significant personal characteristic associated with an individual’s bullying behaviour in the workplace.
Interestingly, Peets, Juvonen, Poyhonen and Salmivalli (2015) have identified that students high in power, primarily through popularity, can actually increase their social standing by positively intervening in bullying situations. However, this is primarily in environments that actively discourage bullying, and where bullying is seen as socially unacceptable. This finding demonstrates the impact that a positive environment, or organisational culture, can have to reduce incidents of bullying by individuals with a high power need. Interestingly, however, where a popular student seeks to increase their social status through bullying, other popular students are less likely to intervene for fear of losing their popularity status (Peet et al., 2015). Lastly, power imbalance is not evident in all reports of bullying. This would imply that whilst the presence of a power imbalance may indeed increase the negative effects on victims of bullying, not all bullies are motivated by a need to assert power over another, however, it is more likely to be present when bullying is occurring.
Three needs summary characteristics
Summary of the typical characteristics of the three needs. (McClelland, 1987).
|Need||Characteristic of the need|
|Need for Achievement - (N-Ach)||
|Need for Affiliation - (N-Affil)||
|Need for Power - (N-Pow)||
Test your knowledge of bullying and motivation needs theory:
Bullying is a significant social issue that is costly in terms of its impact on psychological health and well-being, including illnesses such as depression, anxiety, eating disorders and suicide intentions. Bullying is also shown to have negative financial implications for the economy. It occurs regardless of age, culture, gender or ability. McClelland's needs theory with its focus on achievement, affiliation and power needs, provides a framework for understanding the social needs of bullies and victims of bullying. It is with a more informed understanding of the motivations for such behaviours, that interventions and support can be better targeted ultimately reducing the incidents and impacts of bullying.
- Bystander intervention motivation (Book chapter, 2016)
- Bullying and pack behaviour motivation (Book chapter, 2015)
- Cyber-bullying motivation (Book chapter, 2014)
- Workplace bullying motivation (Book chapter, 2014)
- Affiliation motivation (Book chapter, 2013)