Psychological Perspectives on Bullying

512px-Cyber_BullyingAccording to a report published by Ditch the Label (2013), up to 69% of people will experience bullying while at school, with appearance and interests proving to be ‘the biggest targets for playground taunts.’ The impact of this bullying on achievement and attainment at school is profound, with 56% of bullied pupils feeling that their education has been negatively impacted and long term research suggesting that those who are bullied are more likely to achieve grades D or below at GCSE level.

Bullying can take a range of forms, which can be separated into four broad categories:

Physical (sometimes called ‘direct’) bullying involves any kind of physical interaction (hitting, kicking, tripping etc) or the damaging of property.

Verbal bullying includes name-calling, insults or verbal abuse.

Social and Emotional bullying involves behaviour designed to cause humiliation to the child or to destroy a child’s reputation (for example, through playing pranks on the child or mimicking the child).

Cyber bullying is the newest of the four types and involves taunting or humiliation through social media sites, chat rooms, online gaming, or texting and instant messaging. Unlike face-to-face bullying, which can include some kind of respite from the bullying behaviour when the child is not around his/her bully, cyber bullying can be undertaken 24 hours a day, seven days a week regardless of where the child is.

Of the four kinds of bullying, research shows that verbal is the most common, followed by physical. Given its ephemeral nature, it is more difficult to gauge levels of cyber bullying, but research by the DCSF (2009) suggests that it appears to be increasing.

LSYPE findings suggest an association between bullying and lowered achievement at GCSE level (Characteristics of Bullying Victims in Schools, DfE, 2010) and it is noted by the authors of the report that, on average, young people who have been bullied at Key Stage 4 (Years 10 and 11) score the equivalent of two grades lower than those who had not (corroborating the findings by Ditch the Label referenced at the beginning of this post). At the other end of the scale, 41 percent of students who had not been bullied gained an A or A* grade in English, compared to 26 percent of bullying victims (Prynne, 2014). Unfortunately, a similar trend is seen across maths and science. There are a number of suggested reasons for the victims of bullying not achieving their full potential; perhaps the bullying behaviour preoccupies the student while in class so that they are unable to concentrate; perhaps negative associations with school increases absence or diminish the motivation to complete homework or revision assignments; perhaps the student is ‘dumbing down’ in order to avoid drawing attention to themselves. It can also be argued that the negative impact bullying has on a child’s self-esteem can lead to lower attainment. However, the link between self-esteem and high attainment is unclear, and it may be that students have high self-esteem because of their academic achievement, rather than vice versa.

Of course, as educators and parents we are concerned with more than a child’s achievement; we must also consider how bullying impacts a child’s wellbeing. Beatbullying research (2010) shows that 15% of bullied children interviewed had considered suicide, 15% had self-harmed and 22% had given up interests and hobbies as a result of the bullying. Not only is this detrimental to a student while at school (where extracurricular interests are necessary for helping to maintain a work / life balance) but also in young adulthood, where recruiters and employers are considering outside interests when looking to offer university spaces or jobs. In the long term there is evidence of adults who had been bullied as children suffering from depression, poor self-esteem and difficulties in forming interpersonal relationships, whilst also being more prone to suicidal thoughts or attempts, or acting out of vengeance.

The effects of bullying on education, and life in general, are varied and long-lasting. For those children who remain in school during or following a period of being bullied, it is important for the school and home to closely liaise in order to tackle the issue and minimize disruption to the child’s school and home lives as well as their futures.


For anyone wishing to look more closely into the various research referred to in this article, specific titles,  authors and content references are cited below.

Baldry, A. C. and Farrington, D. P. (1999) ‘Types of bullying among Italian school children.’, Journal of Adolescence, 22:423-426.

Baumeister, R. F., Campbell, J. D., Krieger, J. L., & Vows, K. D. (2003) ‘Does high self-esteem cause better performance, interpersonal success, happiness, or healthier lifestyles?’ American Psychological Society, 4(1), 2-6.

Beatbullying (2010). Persistency, Duration and Vulnerable Groups.

Carney, A. G. and Merrell, K. W. (2001) ‘Perspectives on understanding and preventing an international problem’, School Psychology International, 22:364-82.

Department for Children, Schools and Families (2009) The characteristics of bullying victims in schools. DCSF-RBX-09-14.

Ditch the Label (2013) Annual Bullying Survey

Hugh-Jones, S. and Smith, P. K. (1999) ‘Self-reports of short- and long-term effects of bullying on children who stammer’, British Journal of Educational Psychology, 69:141-158.

James, A. (2010) School Bullying [online] Available from Accessed on 17th April 2014

Klomek, A. B., Marrocco, F., Kleinman, M., Schonfeld, I. S. and Gould, M. S. (2007) ‘Bullying, depression, and suicidality in adolescents’, Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 46:40-49.

LYSPE analysis, Green, R, Collingwood, A & Ross, A (2010), National Centre for Social Research: Characteristics of Bullying Victims in Schools, DFE-RR001

Prynne, M. (2014) ‘Bullying victims get lower grades, report claims’, The Telegraph, [online] Available from Accessed on 18th April 2014

Tapper, K. and Boulton, M. J. (2005) ‘Victim and peer group responses to different forms of aggression among primary school children.’, Aggressive Behavior, 31:238-253.

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