Category: bullying

Bullying Between “Frenemies” Is Surprisingly Common

By Emily Reynolds

We already know that bullying can be one way of climbing the social ladder for teenagers. Research published in 2019, for instance, found that teenagers who combine aggressive behaviour with prosociality see the most social success.

But who, exactly, are teenagers bullying? According to Robert Faris from the University of California, Davis and colleagues, writing in the American Journal of Sociology, it might not be who you’d expect. Rather than bullying those more distant from them, the team finds, teens often pick on their own friends.

Continue reading “Bullying Between “Frenemies” Is Surprisingly Common”

Selfish And Combative People Don’t Actually Get Ahead At Work

By Emily Reynolds

In popular culture, there’s an idea that lots of successful people are… well, not that nice. From Glengarry Glen Ross to The Apprentice, there’s a litany of bad bosses and aggressive success stories in film and television. The message seems to be that to get ahead you need to ditch the niceties and think about number one.

This stereotype might not reflect what’s really going on, however. In a new longitudinal study published in PNAS, a team from the University of California, Berkeley and Colby College tracked individuals over a fourteen year period, looking to see what became of those who were more disagreeable (not a cohort many of us would particularly long to be in).

They found that selfish, combative, and manipulative people have no real advantage at work — not because there are no benefits to such behaviour, but because its positive and negative impacts cancel each other out.

Continue reading “Selfish And Combative People Don’t Actually Get Ahead At Work”

Young Children Believe Intervening In Antisocial Behaviour Is A Universal Duty. Adults Don’t

By Emily Reynolds

When witnessing harmful behaviour, most of us hope for intervention of some kind: if we see someone receiving abuse on public transport, for example, it’s likely we want to see some action taken.

Who we want to intervene in such acts, however, is more divisive. Some believe social norms should be enforced by authorities, whilst others stress that responsibility should be shared amongst us all. An interesting example of this is the discussion around policing, with abolitionists arguing that much of the work done by the police would be better led by communities themselves.

Our politics may inform our stance — and according to a new study in Cognition from Julia Marshall and colleagues at Yale University, so might our age. The team finds that older children and adults tend to see norm enforcement as the responsibility of authorities, while younger children see that duty as universal.

Continue reading “Young Children Believe Intervening In Antisocial Behaviour Is A Universal Duty. Adults Don’t”

Bullies And Their Victims Show Different Patterns Of Brain Activity To Emotional Faces

By Emma Young

An estimated one quarter to one half of adolescents will at some point either be a victim of bullying, or engage in it — or both. Whether you’re on the receiving end, or dealing it out, there are all kinds of associated negative implications for mental health and well-being, including distress, depression and anxiety.  “This highlights an important need to understand the predictors of bullying and victimisation, in order to identify ways to reduce these experiences in adolescents,” write the researchers behind a new study, published in Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience. And this research has revealed one such factor: both bullies and victims show differences in the brain’s response to angry and fearful faces.

Continue reading “Bullies And Their Victims Show Different Patterns Of Brain Activity To Emotional Faces”

The Most Popular Teens Gain Status Through A Combination Of Aggression And Kindness

four teenage girls standing in front of concrete wall

By Emily Reynolds

For many teenagers, being popular is the ultimate form of success. But how to get there is not always so clear. Past research has identified two types of popular teens: the aggressive and the prosocial. Aggressively popular teens are more likely to be coercive or hostile whilst seeking popularity; the prosocial are co-operative and more likely to be stereotypically “nice”.

But in new research from Florida Atlantic University and the University of Montreal, published in Child Development, a third group has emerged: the “bistrategic” teen. This group is neither stereotypically aggressive nor stereotypically nice: instead, they walk the line, using aggression when needed but also being able to smooth things over with strategies usually seen in a more prosocial teen. And this seems to be such a successful tactic that these teens are the most popular of the lot.

Continue reading “The Most Popular Teens Gain Status Through A Combination Of Aggression And Kindness”

Having a personality that’s different from average may increase teens’ risk of being bullied

lonely school pupil sittingBy Christian Jarrett

Most of us remember kids at school who seemed a little different – less sociable, more introverted and fragile, perhaps – and that they often seemed to be the ones to get picked on or rejected. Maybe you remember because you were one of those kids and you know what is was like to not fit in. Personality psychologists who study these things have partly backed this up: they’ve found that children and teens who score low in the “Big Five” traits of emotional stability, conscientiousness and agreeableness (similar to friendliness) are more likely to be bullied.

But of course being different is relative, it depends a lot on the crowd you’re in. A new study in the European Journal of Personality has looked into this, providing a more nuanced picture of how a teenager’s personality may place them at risk of being bullied. The results suggest that teenagers are more likely to be a victim of bullying if they have a personality that is unusual compared with what’s typical in their particular classroom. The researchers, led by Savannah Boele at Tilburg University, say their findings need to be extended and replicated, but they hope they could help teachers spot and support the kids in their class who are most likely to be bullied.

Continue reading “Having a personality that’s different from average may increase teens’ risk of being bullied”

Resist or avoid? Sad study suggests bullying victims are on their own either way

Office workers gossiping behind a worker who looks downcastBy Alex Fradera

Workplace bullying can corrode organisations and wreck individual lives. Research has revealed more and more about effects on victims and the motives of the perpetrators. But bullying is often a performance that demands an audience: you can’t ostracise someone from an empty room, or gossip about them to the wind. So it’s worth looking at the third ingredient in the bullying mix: the bystander. New research in the Journal of Social Psychology takes on this task, looking at the factors that dispose a bystander against bullying victims, and what might encourage them to step in and help.

Continue reading “Resist or avoid? Sad study suggests bullying victims are on their own either way”

New power in the hands of the chronically powerless can be toxic

Toxic Chemical

In the 1970s, feminist theorists began to put forward what was then a controversial claim: that sexual aggression is essentially about power. This idea was important enough to launch experimental research, much of which has supported the claim – for instance, priming some men with a sense of power leads them to say they would be more prepared to coerce sex, and encourages men and women alike to believe a subordinate desired them sexually. However other research has suggested the opposite: that aggression is more likely when perpetrators feel less powerful, including in domestic violence and specifically sexual aggression contexts.

To make sense of these seemingly contradictory findings, researchers from Emory and Stanford universities have looked at power more carefully. Their work, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, suggests that a person’s experience of power in the past and their power right now in the current situation are distinct factors, and how they combine is key. Continue reading “New power in the hands of the chronically powerless can be toxic”

“Just try to ignore it”: How neurotic people respond to extreme rudeness at work

We’ve all experienced rudeness at work; at the time it’s offensive and can harm our creativity, but it bears even darker fruits in the long-term, as repeated exposure is associated with depression, anxiety and psychological distress.

How do people deal with rudeness? When is it buried away, and when addressed? A new study suggests that we actually tend to ignore it most of the time. However more offensive acts may set us off – unless we are particularly emotionally sensitive, in which case, the greater the rudeness, the more likely we are to bury our heads in the sand.

Maquarie University’s Larissa Beattie and Barbara Griffin asked 92 customer service and admin employees at a security company to keep a diary of their experiences and responses to workplace incivility, on eight days spread over four weeks.

People of all personality types mostly (80 per cent of the time) just ignored instances of mild rudeness at work. But when rudeness was more serious, personality made a difference. In these situations, emotionally stable people became more likely to respond in some way (either by retaliating, seeking support or even forgiving the perpetrator), whereas high scorers in neuroticism were even more likely to keep their head down and ignore the incident.

The reasons for this difference aren’t clear from the research. This isn’t about neurotic people being scared to react to bullying from authority figures, as the status of the aggressor was not related to this effect. However, people with high trait neuroticism tend to avoid highly arousing negative situations in general, so it makes sense that they should want to avoid confrontations at work.

In this study, each individual showed a wide repertoire of responses to incivility – sometimes ignoring, sometimes reacting in kind, and in some instances taking it out on others. Context clearly matters, with temperament leaning us in different directions. Unfortunately, the study doesn’t give us an understanding of which responses lead to better outcomes; ignoring may be a healthy reaction in many cases, but we also know that sometimes outbursts of anger are needed to draw attention to workplace injustices. It’s in this context that the reaction of people with high trait neuroticism is concerning, as these more serious events may be precisely the ones that call for a reaction.

Also bear in mind the study looked at a range of roles, but only from a single organisation; it would be useful to explore this issue elsewhere to see how it generalises outside of a certain corporate culture. Given the impact that negative interactions have on job satisfaction and turnover, it’s important that we understand the reasons why some people suffer in silence.


Beattie, L., & Griffin, B. (2014). Accounting for within-person differences in how people respond to daily incivility at work Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 87 (3), 625-644 DOI: 10.1111/joop.12067

–further reading–
The harm caused by witnessing rudeness
Self-doubt turns bosses into bullies
A misogynistic workplace is bad for male employees too

Post written by Alex Fradera (@alexfradera) for the BPS Research Digest.

When the going gets tough, supervisors pick on their weaker staff

A crisis changes everything. Friends are gone, and survivors must adapt to a new, dangerous environment. In the aftermath, predators circle to exploit the weak and vulnerable. According to new research, this not only describes the red tooth and claw of nature, it also applies to the workplace. Pedro Neves at the New University of Lisbon provides evidence that following an organisational downsize, employees are more likely to receive abuse from their supervisors.

Neves was guided by displaced aggression theory – the idea that workplace abuse is often a form of “kicking the dog” – venting our frustrations not at their source, rather at those whom we have power over. Neves predicted that this leads supervisors to target those most unable or unwilling to retaliate: submissive individuals characterised by low “core self-evaluation”(CSE; a combination of personal traits relating to self-image including self-esteem and belief in one’s own abilities), and/or those with fewer co-worker allies.

Survey data from 12 large and medium-sized Portugese organisations from a range of industries – financial to construction to healthcare – confirmed that individuals with lower CSE or less co-worker support were at the receiving end of more abuse, based on their self-ratings of items such as “my supervisor blames me to save himself/herself embarrassment” or “tells me my thoughts or feelings are stupid”. Four of the organisations had gone through downsizing in the prior two years, and in these, submissive employees were even more likely to be picked on. A post-downsizing environment involves uncertainty, ruptures to social networks, and a higher sense of individual risk – all of which heightens vulnerabilities and gives confidence to aggressors that their abuse is unlikely to be fought against.

The data also showed that submissive individuals performed more poorly and engaged in fewer organisational citizenship behaviours, which Neves argues is evidence of the employees also “kicking the dog” – in this case channeling their resentment of the supervisor into minor acts to undermine the organisation.

As this was a cross-sectional survey we have to be careful about drawing such causal inferences, but further analysis suggested two obvious alternative explanations were unlikely: that submissive traits were the consequence of supervisor criticism; or that abuse was causing both poor performance and the submissive traits.

Neves advises facilitating co-worker support as a bulwark against exploitation of the vulnerable, and to build the CSE of employees. These are good things to encourage in any case – but ultimately, the responsibility for change lies not with the abused, but the abusers, to cease picking on the weak.

  ResearchBlogging.orgNeves, P. (2014). Taking it out on survivors: Submissive employees, downsizing, and abusive supervision. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology DOI: 10.1111/joop.12061

Post written by Alex Fradera (@alexfradera) for the BPS Research Digest.