Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Bullying: Can we do anything about it?

Working as a researcher in Psychology meant I often encountered individuals who either thought I could read their mind, or suggested that their friend / family member would be an excellent case study for me. The research that I was actually carrying out over the last two years concerned children’s language and communication problems. Being met with this public misconception of psychology was one thing I was happy to be leaving behind when I knew I was soon going to be starting a job in Education research. Everybody knows what education is and sees the value in it, and so I was looking forward to a better reaction from the public. However…

General misconceptions and confusion about my field of research have been replaced by strong personal opinions. Telling people that I would be working on a bullying intervention for children in primary schools brought out people’s personal theories on bullying. The three main ones were:

Bullying isn’t nice but it makes people stronger and is character building.
Bullying will always happen, and there’s nothing you can do about it.
People only get bullied if they let it happen to them – it’s their own fault.

Bullying can have detrimental effects on both the victim and the perpetrator, both short- and long-term. Bullying perpetration in school is a significant predictor of violence six years later. Bullies are also more likely to suffer from depression later in life. To a lesser extent, victims of school bullying are also more likely to offend later in life. Depression is also increased in victims. These are just some of the negative effects – substance abuse and academic achievement are also related to bullying.

I am pleased to say that the research shows YES! We CAN do something about bullying! A systematic review and meta-analysis of bullying prevention studies in 2010 showed bullying to reduce by 20-23% on average. Whole-school approaches that seek to address students, teachers, and the school environment, seem to be the most effective.

I am just two days into my new post, so plan to write in much more detail about bullying. When people confront me in the future with their opinions on bullying, I hope to be able to explain the range of negative effects of bullying, as well as the improvements that interventions can provide.

As for psychology, a new blog called Head Quarters has recently been launched on the Guardian website. Let’s hope this can help to dispel some of the myths surrounding psychology, and help demonstrate what psychology researchers really do.

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