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Selected Readarounds in Child and Youth Care

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Bullies and victims

Astrid Mona O'Moore

Lowenstein (1978) was one of the earliest investigators in England to attempt a 'micro-analysis' of the bully. He noted that the identification of bullies was not always unanimous. Teachers did not always agree on who were the bullies, indicating that bullying was on a continuum with normal aggressive or domineering behaviour. Teachers themselves viewed bullying differently, due to their own orientation and experience with particular children. Lowenstein (1978) therefore applied strict criteria before selecting bullying children for closer examination. Thus the study merits some attention. Lowenstein found that the bullies in his study were more likely to be hyperactive and disruptive in class, and had higher neuroticism scores than their controls. Moreover, they had lower IQ's and were below average in reading achievement. Lowenstein also found that bullying children of either sex were more likely to have parents who had marital problems and conflicts at home; been bullies themselves; had a poor approach to rearing children, i.e. inconsistent, overstrict and over permissive and who had a lack of values relating to sensitivity to other people.

In a later study of thirty-two victims of bullying, (strict criteria having once again been applied) Lowenstein (1978a) found bullied children also had distinct physical characteristics and personality traits which distinguished them from the non-bullied child. Social and background features appeared to influence the possibility of being bullied.

Social skills and the capacity to communicate, to be popular and show interest in others were likely to mitigate against being bullied. Moreover, children were less likely to be bullied if they were physically robust, extroverted, socially sensitive, unselfish, flexible, conforming to group norms, rewarding, unaggressive, non-attention seeking and modest.

Lowenstein's findings in respect of the victims were very similar to the Scandinavian and Finnish results, i.e. the victim is insecure in his social relations and is physically weak (O'Moore, 1988). Lowenstein, did not, however, distinguish between the provocative and the passive victim as did Olweus (1978). If this distinction is ignored it might so easily cloud results. Lowenstein, for example, found his controls to be less aggressive than the victims, a finding which is in the opposite direction of what one would expect of the passive victim.

Indeed Stephenson and Smith's (1987) data of primary school children clearly distinguishes the passive victim from the provocative victim. Whereas the majority of their victims, as in the Scandinavian literature, were passive, weak and ineffective individuals, the provocative victims were rated as more active, assertive, confident and physically stronger than other victims. They were not only easily provoked but they also provoked other children. Whereas most victims actively avoid aggressive situations, these children were found to actively seek these out. In addition a large number of these children frequently complained to their teachers that they were being bullied.

Stephenson and Smith believe that because these children actively provoke the bullying to which they are subjected they are a particularly vulnerable and problematic group.

Equally worrying were the small number of anxious bullies. Whereas they found the majority of bullies shared the characteristics of the Scandinavian bullies, i.e. confident, assertive, physically strong, reasonably popular, the anxious bullies were rated as lacking in self-confidence. In fact, they were found to be the least confident of all the groups. More of these children were reported to have problems at home and they were less popular with their classmates than other bullies. Their teacher described them as having fewer likeable qualities than the other groups and they also had the poorest school attainments and poorest concentration of all the groups.


Lowenstein, L.F. (1978). Who is the bully? Bulletin British Psychological Society, 31. pp. 316-318.

Lowenstein, L.F. (1978a). The bullied and the non-bullied child. Bulletin British Psyhcological Society, 31. pp. 316-318.

Olweus, D. (1978). Aggression in the schools: Bullies and whipping boys. Washington D.C. Hemisphere.

O'Moore, A.M. (1988). Bullying in schools. Council of Europe Report. DECS/EGT (88) 5-E. Strasbourg. Council for Cultural Co-operation

Stephenson, P. and Smith, D. (1987). Anatomy of a playground bully. Education, 18 September. pp. 236-237.

O'Moore, A.M. (1989). Bullying in Britain and Ireland: An overview. In Roland, E. and Munthe, E. (Eds.) Bullying: An International Perspective. London. David Fulton Publishers. pp. 12-13.

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