Bullying and its Underlying Mechanisms (page 2)

By — Bullying Special Edition Contributor
Updated on Apr 23, 2014

Why Do Group Processes Play a Crucial Role? (Group Level)

Witnesses, Assistants, Reinforcers

Beside mechanisms on the individual and dyadic level, the influence of the whole class must not be overlooked. A study conducted in Finland (5) showed that beside the perpetrator and the victim many more pupils in a class play an important role during the bullying process. This research identified outsiders (these are pupils who don’t engage in bullying) as well as students who “assist” or “reinforce” the perpetrator by on-looking, laughing, etc. were found. Students who try to defend and help the victim were also identified. Research conducted in Canada (6) has demonstrated that peers are almost always present during bullying episodes, but only rarely intervene on behalf of the victim. Moreover, our own research (7) has demonstrated that there is a very high heterogeneity between classes in prevalence rates of perpetrators and victims. We both found very peaceful classes with no bullying and very violent ones in which up to half of the pupils were involved in bullying others.

Taken together, results of this study support the need to intervene on the group level and carefully tailor intervention efforts according to the needs of the particular classes. Sustainable effects will most likely with interventions that success in establishing prosocial norms for the group and positive social behavior (e.g., helping or integrating outsiders), not only in perpetrators but in the whole group.


  1. Olweus, D. (1991). Bully / victim problems among schoolchildren: Basic facts and effects of a school based intervention program. In D. J. Pepler & K. H. Rubin (Eds.), The development and treatment of childhood aggression (pp. 411-448). Hillsdale: Erlbaum.
  2. Roland, E., & Munthe, E. (1989). Bullying: An international perspective. London: David Fulton.
  3. Fandrem, H., Strohmeier, D. & Roland, E. (in press). Bullying and victimization among Norwegian and immigrant adolescents in Norway: The role of proactive and reactive aggressiveness. Journal of Early Adolescence.
  4. Veenstra, R., Lindenberg, S., Zijlstra, B.J.H., De Winter, A.F., Verhulst, F.C., & Ormel, J. (2007). The dyadic nature of bullying and victimization: Testing a dual-perspective theory. Child Development, 78, 6, 1843-1854.
  5. Salmivalli, C., Lagerspetz, K., Bjoerkqvist, K. & Oestermann K. (1996). Bullying as a group process: Participant roles and their relations to social status within the group. Aggressive Behaviour, Vol 22 (1), 1-15.
  6. Craig, Pepler & Atlas, 2000) Craig, W. M., Pepler, D., & Atlas, R. (2000). Observations of bullying in the playground and in the classroom. School Psychology International, 21(1), 22-36.
  7. Atria, M., Strohmeier, D. & Spiel, C. (2007). The relevance of the school class as social unit for the prevalence of bullying and victimization. European Journal of Developmental Psychology, 4 (4), 372-387.

Dr. Dagmar Strohmeier received her PhD 2006 at the University of Vienna, Austria. She holds a faculty position at the University of Vienna. Her main research interests are peer relations in cultural contexts and bullying prevention in schools.

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