Bullying and victimisation has plagued schools for centuries, and is present in every country.
Studies in Italy and Britain have reported that 56.5% of children were victimised in the year prior; in Australia, results also support the extent of bullying and victimisation with one study showing that only 42.4% of students had no involvement in victimisation or aggressive behaviour.
What is Bullying?
Bullying does involve violence and aggressive behaviours however, it is more than just aggressive behaviour. Bullying is different from aggressive behaviour in that it always involves an imbalance of power between the parties involved, with the victim always being the weaker.
Why Look at Personality?
Longitudinal studies have revealed that bullying is a behaviour that is stable over time. For example, one study found across a ten year time span that aggression scores at age nine were predictive of aggressive behaviour at age 19 for both males and females.
This stability is also evident in victims of aggression and bullying. A study into victims of bullying found that individuals who were victims of bullying in primary school were most likely to be victims in high school and the workplace in later life. Despite changing environments and the change in peer networks, these individuals were continually on the receiving end of aggressive behaviour.
When exploring why this stability over time exists, factors commonly explored as potential causes fall into two categories:
- family and school environment; and
- personality or temperament.
Personality is a factor that when explored can help psychologists understand why certain individuals behave in specific ways under certain environmental circumstances, compared to other individuals who, when exposed to the same environmental constraints, behave differently.
What Does the Research Say?
One personality theory that has received a lot of research with regards to victimisation is that of Eysenck’s personality constructs (extraversion and neuroticism). Research by Mynard & Joseph (1997) found that victims of aggressive behaviour tended to score low on extraversion and high on neuroticism. Results were also in accordance with the findings of Tani et al. (2003) who used the Big Five personality constructs, finding that victims of bullying scored highly on neuroticism and low on extraversion.
Another theory that has conducted some research into aggression, victimisation and personality is Gray’s Reinforcement Sensitivity Theory. This theory holds that two systems drive motivated behaviour; the Behavioural Activation System (BAS) and the Behavioural Inhibition System (BIS). The BAS is essentially an assessment of an individual’s sensitivity to reward and approach behaviour. The BIS on the other hand, assessed punishment sensitivity and inhibition of approach behaviour.
One study found a significant relationship between the BIS and victimisation. It did not however, support a relationship between the BAS and aggressive behaviour. There are also other studies that have found a link between these two variables. Some however, were only researching conduct disorder and prison populations known only for having high tendencies of aggressive behaviour, rather than examining aggressive or bullying behaviour directly.
Is my Child’s Personality making them a Target?
This can leave a parent wondering what this means for their child if they were to show these personality traits. Does it mean that they are going to be bullied, no matter what?
The answer is that human behaviour is a lot more complicated than that. Having a specific personality trait does not predestine a child to be a victim of bullying. Recall earlier it was said that two factors influence human behaviour, so family and school environment will also influence a child’s response to bullying. What are the parents teaching their child to do when they encounter a bully? How should they handle the situation? How is the parent supporting their child to build a positive sense of self-worth and self-esteem? What is the school’s bullying policy? How as a community at large do we approach bullying behaviour? These are all questions that we can reflect on that will influence whether a child becomes a victim of bullying – or not.
Author: Sharyn Jones, B Psych (Hons).
Sharyn Jones is a Brisbane psychologist with 10 years of experience working with adults, adolescents, children and their parents. Using a combination of cognitive behavioural and solution focused therapies, she aims to facilitate positive changes in client’s lives so that they can achieve and obtain their desired goals.
To make an appointment try Online Booking. Alternatively, you can call Vision Psychology Brisbane on (07) 3088 5422.
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