Bullies are people who perform acts of physical or verbal abuse repeatedly against other people who are perceived as less powerful.

As people have become more aware of bullying, research into this phenomenon has increased. Bullies and their victims are both at risk for short-and longterm problems with mental health. Prevention measures have increased, and anti-bullying curriculums are in place in many schools. Prevalence of the Internet (approximately 95% of teens are online) makes opportunities for bullying abundant, however. According to some data provided by the National Center for Education, one in three students reports being bullied. Most bullying occurs at school, with a lesser percent reported as cyberbullying. Reports of bullying often include the following behaviors: rumors, threats, being spat upon, having personal property destroyed, and being socially excluded.

Percentage of students ages 12–18 who reported being bullied at school during the school year, by gender: slected years, 2005 through 2013

Percentage of students ages 12–18 who reported being bullied at school during the school year, by gender: slected years, 2005 through 2013

Significantly, more than half of bullies stop their behavior when asked by a peer to stop immediately. Yet 90% of children have reported seeing a bullying incident happen and saying nothing. Bullying peaks in middle school and usually decreases by 10th grade. The majority of children choose to tell their parents about being bullied. Next, they tell their friends. Peer groups hold a great deal of power to help resolve the culture of childhood aggression. Girls are bullied more often than boys. Overweight children are bullied more often than those within a normal weight range.

Psychologists have identified anxiety and depression as frequent short-term effects of bullying. Research published in JAMA 2013 showed that long-term mental health effects of bullying are just as serious. A longitudinal study followed 1,400 children from ages 9 to 13 into adulthood. Of these adults, the ones who had been both bullies and bullied were most troubled. Twenty-five percent of these subjects were suicidal at an early age. Thirty-eight percent of these adults had some form of panic disorder. Men tended to develop depression, whereas women tended to develop agoraphobia. Adults who had only been bullies were often revealed to be antisocial. Adults who had only been the victims of bullies mostly developed anxiety disorders.

Bullying has lasting effects on self-image and mental health. Rather than seeing it as a rite of passage or an unavoidable experience in the school environment, psychologists now understand that bullying is more than childhood aggression or adolescent melodrama. Bullying lowers victims' self-esteem, makes them feel powerless, and often results in depression. The worst outcome of bullying is suicide.

Bullying can involve an older, larger child (or several children) victimizing a single child who is incapable of defending himself. Although much bullying goes unreported, it is estimated that in the average school incidents of bullying occur approximately once every seven minutes. Bullying occurs at about the same rate regardless of class size or school size. Rural schools appear to have a higher rate of bullying than urban or suburban schools. Even when bullying is reported, it is not always taken seriously by teachers and parents; many adults believe that children should learn to stand up for themselves.


This primary source contains information from a bulletin from the World Health Organization (WHO) on the topic of bullying. Along with key facts, the sheet describes consequences, prevention, diagnosis, and treatment.

Bullying is a major public health problem that demands the concerted and coordinated time and attention of health-care providers, policy-makers, and families. Evolving awareness about the morbidity and mortality associated with bullying has helped give this psychosocial hazard a modest level of worldwide public health attention. However, it is not enough.

Bullying is a multifaceted form of mistreatment, mostly seen in schools and the workplace. It is characterized by the repeated exposure of one person to physical and/or emotional aggression including teasing, name calling, mockery, threats, harassment, taunting, hazing, social exclusion, or rumours. A wide range of bullying prevalence has been documented among students and in labour forces worldwide.

A growing body of research is highlighting the range of significant morbidities affecting individuals involved in bullying whether as bystanders, bullies, and/or victims. Students involved in bullying are at a significant risk of experiencing a wide spectrum of psychosomatic symptoms, running away from home, alcohol and drug abuse, absenteeism, and, above all, self-inflicted, accidental, or perpetrated injuries. The consequences of bullying extend into adulthood, as there is evidence of a significant association between childhood bullying behaviour and later psychiatric morbidity. Moreover, adults bullied in the workplace are prone to suffer from a variety of health risks, including depression and cardiovascular problems.

Multiple reported cases of death associated with bullying have led to legislative initiatives around the world. Enacted legislation has placed the responsibility of prevention on the shoulders of organizational (educational or workplace) management with no apparent input expected from the public health sector. As we recognize the health and safety hazards linked to bullying across the lifespan, we are challenged with the need to develop health policies for bullying prevention. The school milieu is functionally an occupational environment, where future employees and employers develop their physical, cognitive, social, moral, and ethical skills. Moreover, students and workers are exposed to similar physical and psychological hazards. This notion is reflected in the Swedish Work Environment Authority Actwhich is focused on preventing ill-health and accidents in the workplace. This statute considers students, prison inmates, and members of the armed forces as employees. Some may argue that the approaches for eradicating school bullying should be different from those addressing bullying at the adult workplace. Although there are differences in the developmental and legal status of students and adult workers, as well as in the socioecological aspects of schools and industry, both environments may benefit from the same approach to prevent bullying and its associated health risks.

SOURCE: Srabstein, Jorge C. and Bennett L. Leventhal.“Prevention of bullying-related morbidity and mortality: a call for public health policies” Bulletin of the World Health Organization, vol. 88. No. 6. World Health Organization, June 2010, p. 403. (accessed September 21, 2015).

Bullying begins at a very early age; bullies are evident in preschool classrooms. Until about age seven, bullies appear to choose their victims at random. After that, they single out specific children to torment on a regular basis. Nearly twice as much bullying occurs in grades two to four as in grades six to eight, and, as bullies grow older, the tools become more sophisticated. They rely less on physical abuse and more upon verbal abuse.

Until about sixth grade, bullies are not necessarily unpopular. They average two or three friends, and some children seem to admire them because they appear tough. By high school, however, their social acceptance has diminished to the point that their only friends are other bullies. Despite their unpopularity, bullies seem to have relatively high self-esteem. Some experts theorize that bullies may process social information inaccurately.

For example, bullies attribute hostile intentions to people around them; therefore, they perceive provocation where it does not exist. For the bully, perceived slights serve as justification for aggressive behavior.



(© New York Daily News/Getty Images)

The rape and murder of Kitty Genovese is an important case history in the study of social psychology, in particular in regard to the concepts of bystander apathy and helping behaviors. Psychologists have found that the presence of others can undermine an individual's motivation to intervene in emergency situations.

Catherine (Kitty) Genovese was a sports bar manager in New York City. In the early morning hours of March 13, 1964, she was returning to her home in Queens when she was attacked and stabbed by Winston Moseley. Moseley later testified that he had gone on the “prowl” to kill an unaccompanied woman.

In the initial attack Moseley stabbed Genovese several times as she screamed for help. None of the neighbors intervened despite several testifying later to have heard and/or seen the attack. Several of the witnesses who were later questioned said that they did not intervene because they did not want to get involved and they thought it was a “domestic dispute.” One neighbor is reported to have yelled out the window causing Moseley to flee the scene temporarily. No one helped Genovese and she attempted to walk to her apartment, collapsing in the hallway due to blood loss. Moseley then returned to the scene and located Genovese; he continued to stab her and raped her before leaving her to die. A witness named Karl Ross called police atthis time but Genovese died in an ambulance on the way to the hospital.

Initial reports claimed that 38 neighbors witnessed the attack in full and failed to intervene, however this number has been disputed, and it has been stated that most of the neighbors could only hear the attack and some who saw it testified thatthey could nottell a stabbing was taking place.

There was public outrage over the inaction of bystanders following the attack, and it led to clinical studies on group psychology and helping behaviors. In 1970, psychologists Bibb Latane´ and John Darley famously staged similar emergency situations with volunteers and found that an individual alone was far more likely to respond to an emergency than a person in a crowd. This was referred to as “the bystander effect” —the concept that people feel a diffusion of responsibility in large groups, and that there is an inverse relationship between group size and helping behavior.

Recently some psychologists have revisited the case history focusing on previously largely ignored characteristics: the fact that Genovese was a woman (as well as a lesbian), who was sexually assaulted and murdered by a man. Feminist psychologists have viewed the case history within the framework of sex and gender, and its significance regarding the social psychology of rape and violence against women. Factors such as Moseley's court statement about seeking out a woman to murder, and the lack of public recognition in 1964 of the issue of domestic violence were not taken into consideration by Latane´ and Darley when they conducted their studies.

Despite discrepancies over the details of the case, the murder of Kitty Genovese has had a lasting impact on the study of social psychology and the concepts of responsibility in crowds, helping behaviors, and bystander apathy. It has been instrumental in demonstrating the way in which individuals are less motivated to intervene in emergencies when a crowd is present than if they are a sole witness.



Kowalski, Robin M., et al. Cyberbullying: Bullying in the Digital Age. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012.

Monks, Claire P., and Iain Coyne, eds. Bullying in Different Contexts. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011.

Vernberg, Eric M., and Bridget K. Biggs, eds. Preventing and Treating Bullying and Victimization. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010.


American Psychological Association. “Bullying.” www.apa.org/topics/bullying (accessed September 15, 2015).

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.“What Is Bullying?” http://www.stopbullying.gov/what-is-bullying/ (accessed September 15, 2015).