Study Finds Characteristics That Identify Bullies And Victims

May 19, 1997

ATHENS, Ohio -- Bullies are controlling, hot tempered and lack empathy for others. Victims lack social skills, blame themselves for their problems and are afraid to go to school. These traits are among the most common indicators of bullying and victim behaviors in children, according to a new study at Ohio University.

Researchers here have developed a list of 19 characteristics common to bullies and 21 characteristics common to victims. The list could be used by parents, teachers and child therapists to identify which children may become bullies or victims before problems become serious, said Richard Hazler, lead author of the study and professor of counselor education at Ohio University.

Working with a team of researchers from Ohio University and Tri-County Mental Health Services in Athens, Ohio, Hazler asked a group of international experts on school bullies and victims to review a list of 70 characteristics identified in various studies of bullies and victims. The experts rated the degree of significance of each characteristic in the identification of either bullies or victims.

After examining the 70 traits on the list, there was near unanimous agreement among the experts on 19 characteristics for bullies and 21 for victims. This marks the first reporting of a definitive list of behavioral traits for bullies and victims that meets with expert agreement.

"We were looking for the consistent characteristics in bullies and victims so people who work with children know what to look for," he said. "This will help us understand who needs attention, and the best way to provide assistance."

The study suggests that bullies tend to have more family problems than other children, likely suffer from physical or emotional abuse, and are subject to inconsistent discipline at home. Victims tend to have parents who are overly involved in their activities, and feel they have no control over their environment.

"The experts clearly saw the home environment as providing strong indicators of negative factors in the environment of bullies and victims," Hazler said. "For victims, the experts agreed that fear of going to school and having families that may be over-involved in the students' decisions and actions were other important characteristics that differentiated the victims from others."

The list of characteristics could be a first step in developing an assessment tool to evaluate the potential of children to become bullies or victims. The early intervention is important if parents and professionals are to prevent behaviors that can lead to injury or criminal actions, Hazler said. And, although the list addresses traits seen in young people, Hazler added that many of these traits are also evident in adult aggressors and victims.

"Many of these characteristics are the same as those of a spouse abuser and an abused spouse," he said, which suggests that children who do not receive treatment for bully or victim behavior continue to have those negative behaviors as adults.

Fourteen experts on school bullies and victims participated in the study. The experts were identified as international research leaders in academia and counseling who have been cited most frequently in published literature on the topic.

The study was published in a recent issue of the journal School Psychology International, and was presented at the American Counseling Association World Conference in April in Orlando, Fla. Other authors included Suzy Green, assistant professor of educational research; Richard Powell and Jolynn V. Carney, doctoral students in counselor education, all at Ohio University; and Loren Scott Jolly with Tri-County Mental Health Services.

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Contact: Richard Hazler, 614-593-4461;
Written by Kelli Whitlock: 614-593-0383;

Ohio University

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