Psychology Essays - Social Bullying Information

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Social Bullying Information

Critique of Research Report: Social Cognition and bullying: Social in adequacy or skilled manipulation? Sutton, Smith and Swettenham (1999), British Journal of Development Psychology, 17, 435-450.

This paper will critically scrutinize the research of Sutton, Smith and Swettenham (1999) that challenged the traditional studies which based on the social information processing theory. Instead of interpreting bullies are lack of cognitive and social skills, they highlight that bullies actually may be the individuals who could apply their advanced theory of mind to manipulate and lead their groups to achieve goals.

193 pupils aged between 7 and 10 years old of eight classes from four South-East London schools were investigated. Between subjects t test, ANOVA, Chi-Square and Correlation coefficient were the statistical methods carried out in this study. The resources published after this research paper (1999) are omitted in examining.

The substantive nature of the paper

There are some considerable substances that should be concerned in the substantive nature of this research paper: the sufficiency of the prior studies associated with this research, the conceptual framework and the neglected variables which may influence the outcome of this study. These features are fundamental scheme for determining and evaluating the research objectives, questions, hypotheses and justification of the study.

As this study emerges the distinct interpretation of the bullies from the previous traditional studies that they might be a person keen on employing their well-developed cognitive and social skills to handle social circumstances, the adequate prior studies concerning bullying would be supposed to present in order to provide the audience background knowledge and better understanding of the present research.

Although the authors attempt to illustrate the evidences from a number of primary sources, it could be found that there are several flaws in the literature review of the study. Firstly, it was claimed by the author that bullying among children is considered as a worldwide problematic issue; however, there are a few studies merely in western countries presented.

Absence of the studies in other parts of the world such as the distinguished study of Morita, Y., Soeda, H., Soeda, K. & Taki, M. (1999) in which ‘Ijime’ (bullying) was introduced and the study in the developing world of Ohsako (1999). Lack of adequate instances presenting problematic issues regarding the topic may not be able to convince the audience to realize the importance of the research.

In addition, the previous studies regarding intervention tactics in bullying are not referred in the literature review of the paper although the authors mentioned that it would be one of the significant parts to discuss. The study fail to mention the

As far as the theoretical framework is concerned, this study focused on the relationship between bullying and social cognition which is challenged the a number of previous studies based on social information processing theoretical framework; therefore theory of mind framework should have been adequately explained for the audience’s better comprehension.

However, it is surprising that merely general definition of the theory of mind was mentioned. The important set of investigations into the nature of children how the children comprehend other’s beliefs and desires in the study of Harris and Muncer (1988), together with the study of Harris (1989) which regarding how the children understand emotions were absent from the consideration of the authors. The more theoretical background is given, the more the audience is facilitated to draw inferences and follow the study comprehensively.

In addition to considering a theoretical framework, the neglected issues which may affect the findings of this study should also be considered. The factors such as ethnicity, gender differences, behavioural problem, emotional problem and social class are not mentioned and considered. The details of these factors which are influential on research outcomes will be discussed later.

Research Design and Methodology

Instrumentation and Procedure

Various instruments were applied for testing research hypotheses in this study; however, there are some weaknesses of these measures that should be considered. To begin with, Participant Role Scale (PRS) (Salmivalli et al., 1996) was presented as a self/peer nomination interview in order to classify the children bullying roles. This adapted version was found in another study of the authors more appropriate for the children from 7 – 10 years of age than the questionnaire format in original version.

However, there are some considerable questions from Rigby (1996) that the authors did not discuss on children interview: ‘do the students understand the differences between bullying of other forms of conflicts? Do they include the imbalanced power into their definition of bullying? Do they really understand the term of bullies and victims? How do the students perceive bullying?’ As the pupils in this sample are rather young, they might misinterpret or misunderstand the terms of bullying. Providing them some knowledge regarding the terms and incidence of bullying is needed.

Besides, according to British Psychological Society (BPS) principles, all information which is obtained regarding a participant must be confidential unless it has been agreed otherwise in advance (Brackwell, 2006). Yet confidentiality of interview was not mentioned or guaranteed, so there could definitely be worries about how the data could be abused or biased. For example, the child who was labelled ‘bully’ as a consequence of receiving several nominations from other classmates – and the label may make difficult for him or her to receive fair treatment from others.

Another consideration regarding self-nomination interview is that it could be the most doubtful method (Rigby, 1996). The children involved in bulling episodes normally do not want others to know about their involvement. The victims are often worried that teacher may make situation worse, and sometimes teachers actually do (Rigby, 1996). Therefore clearly guaranteed protection is required to be addressed. Nonetheless how the interviewers make the students feel secured to be interviewed is also not discussed. Absence of considering this may affect the reliability of the data.

By contrast, Smith and Thomson (1991) concluded from the study that interviews are not the most suitable means of studying as some children attempted to answer defensively. They declared that in order to make more reliable generalizations about the extent of bullying in general, an anonymous self-report questionnaire, which was pioneered by Olweus (1991), and has been adopted in several other countries, is the most effective method for the children of 8 years and upwards. Smith and Sharp (1994) also suggest it seems the most reliable and valid method.

Consistent with Ahmad and Smith (1990), it was reported that comparing to other available methods, this questionnaire is appropriately reliable and valid for the large-scale research. As the sample of this study is 7-10 years old, it could be said that this questionnaire should be also considered as alternative method.

Also, the time of interview is not discussed. Sharp, Arora, Smith and Whitney (1994) say that interview can be time consuming so it should be more deliberately considered, especially with young children who have limited duration of concentration. Children may be easily distracted so the appropriate time should not be more than 15 minutes (Brackwell et al., 2006)

In assessing the type of bullying, the teachers were asked to complete the questionnaires for the children who are scored as ‘bullies’. In this point, it was not described if the teachers really understand the terms of the bulling types of children they were rating. Lack of understanding and knowledge about the terms of bullying behaviours may lead the teacher misinterpret.

Although asking the teacher about bullying incidence in the class is the quickest and easiest method, the data are solely from the teacher’s perception of the problem because the children rarely tell the teachers directly concerning bullying (Whitney and Smith, 1993). Moreover, some teachers often misinterpret play fighting as bullying (Sullivan, 2006). Children also often play physical and verbal games that may appear adults hard to understand (Sullivan, 2000). Teachers therefore need to be able to distinguish between bullying and playing for enabling the outcomes valid and reliable.

Moreover, distinguishing between the types of bullying is required to pinpoint the behaviour of children correctly for valid data. However, the form of bullying behaviours indicated in this process was unclearly categorized and described. Further, there is no mention about the origin of the form. Thus, the alternative bullying forms of Rigby (1996) is a clearer classification that should have been considered.


There are some noticeable flaws in this point. Although the size and major characteristics of the sample were described, the method of sample selection was not mentioned. Random sampling, sampling distribution that are required to draw inferences from samples to populations, and the threat to the validity in the presence of non response are needed; however, none of them are discussed. We cannot see if the participants were self selection then there would be a danger of bias.

Research Design

Considering the research design, it seems that some influential confounds are not controlled and discussed. Firstly, the pupil participants were in mixed-ethnic schools, so the ethnicity should have been considered as one of the confounding variables. Kelly and Cohn (1988) state that racial bullying could be a severe problem in some multi-ethnic schools. Besides, the study of Riley (1998) reports ethnic minority pupils are more like to be bullies because of the strong racist attitudes.

The second abandoned confound is gender differences. There is a consensus with the findings of Olweus (1978) that boys are more violent in bullying than girls, and favour direct way of using physical aggression. On the other hand, girls bully in indirect ways such as gossip and social ostracism. Behavioural problem is also another neglected factor that might influence the outcomes.

The study of Mitchel and O’moore (1998) reports that of 19 bullies, 15 were rated as antisocial and 3 as neurotic. Byrne (1994) also indicate that the incidence of bullying is higher among pupils with emotional problems.

Besides, as the sample includes the children from different social classes, this variable should have been overlooked. Tizard et al, (1988) state that the pupils from working class are found more aggressive than middle-class children.

Furthermore there is no mention about the total number of teachers who participated in assessing types of bullying process. Therefore the ratios of gender of pupils who are scores as bullying, the gender and the number of teachers are unknown. This ambiguous performance may be one of the factors that may make the outcomes unreliable and may lead to the biased issue which will be discussed later. It can be noticed that the authors lack consideration and discussion on the subjects in the study.


In this study, it can be found that various statistical techniques were carried out for analysing the data such as t test, ANOVA, Chi-Square and Correlation coefficient. The hypotheses are clearly described by the outcomes given, and the authors use the statistical tests with the levels of variables correctly. For example participant roles and gender are categorical variables suitable for measuring the association by Chi-square (χ2).

Nevertheless, the majority of the tabulated data in table one is not clearly linked to the text described. Although the mean of number participants and characteristics of each bullying role are illustrated in the table, the description is mentioned about χ2 and t- test which are not shown in the table. Thus, presenting the tabulated data and text should be related to each other, otherwise the readers may be confused. Furthermore, it shows that the authors try to avoid presenting the data regarding t-test

In table one, there are the number and percentage given, where only the percentage is is given to gender. Again that the authors avoid to present the exact number of participants, so the number of pupils in both genders are still unknown. As well as the number of the total students and in each gender of the students who got control question wrong are underrepresented.

The t-test is the significant statistical test in this study, but there is not illustrated in any table to let the readers consider and compare. Therefore, the readers cannot see whether the t value described in the texts are correct.


Sutton, Smith and Swettenham accurately conclude the main findings of the research and also provide the interesting and surprising outcomes for educational field, particularly on the topic of bullying and theory of mind. The results are correctly discussed in terms of supporting the major hypotheses that the bullies have higher score on social cognition than both Victims and Followers (Assistants and Reinforcers) as the authors assumed actually bullies may be the individuals who could apply their advanced theory of mind to manipulate and lead their groups to achieve goals. These findings are inconsistent with the previous theoretical frameworks and prior traditional studies.

However, they cannot clearly present the reliability and validity of their findings because of the absence of discussion with regard to uncontrolled or confounding variables, and several vague cases. It seems that the author preconceive the outcomes in order to support their arguments against a number of previous traditional outcomes. The number and gender of students who are labelled as bullies are not mentioned.

Furthermore, several confounding variables such as ethnicity, children with learning difficulties and behavioural and emotional problems, contexts of the children are neglected to discuss although all of them are the significant factors that might affect the validity of outcomes.

The useful future research recommendations as well as the interventions are provided. As far as the interventions are concerned; the authors emphasize on peer relationship and the pupil behaviours. However, no mention about cooperation among home, school and community which are the significant factors that can help to solve the bullying problems effectively is provided (Tattum and Herbert, 1997).

Last but not least, one more factor regarding bullying in school context that should have been neglected is the issue in the playground. The previous studies using interview and observational methodology report that most children are involved in social activities in the school playground most of the time (Blatchford, 1989).

Therefore, Smith and Sharp (1994) suggest that adults should consider various strategies such as encouraging positive behaviours in the playground and building relationships between lunchtime supervisors and pupils in order to make playground less violent places. This is because bullying, fighting and aggression are among some of the most disturbing behaviours that children may experience at one time or another in the playground.

Recommended design revisions

There are three main broad categories of revision:

  • Ethical considerations

The important ethical principles are not adequately addressed in this research although it is related to bullying issue that might harmfully or directly affect the pupils. The protection and welfare of participants, the use of deception, confidentiality and the anonymity of data are the issue that should have been addressed and more considered.

  • Confounding variables

There are several influential extraneous variables present in this research. A systemic identification of these confounds (e.g. genders, ethnicity, social class, behavioural problem, emotional problem, learning disabilities) and a proposed control method for each should be complemented. Moreover, the equilibrium between external and internal validity is required to be discussed.

  • Research methodological considerations

There is absence of clear indication regarding the interview and sampling method

Interviewing children is the issue that the researcher should be deliberately considered about time because children are easily distracted so various techniques needs to be applied to retain their attention. Validity and reliability of interview data may affect because some children may be afraid to tell the truth or dislike the researcher.

In order to provide validity and reliability of interview data, Brackwell et al. (2006) suggest that besides using content analysis ca for decreasing the data to manageable scales, opening the analysis to verification and providing description of the data based on the conclusion are needed. Together with including estimates of inner-rater reliability are also required.

As far as the sampling is concerned, sampling strategies should have been more clearly described because the information regarding the recruitment of the sample is vague. Sampling distribution should have been discussed in order to make statistical inferences from samples to populations. Making valid and reliable inference is a keystone of science and there are many drawbacks that may appear along the way in the researcher’s endeavours. (Brackwell et al., 2006)

Although the discussion goes beyond the aim of research and report the hypothetical testing correctly, there are some errors which can be the threats to the validity and reliability of the study findings. How valid and reliable of the outcomes in this research are, thus, open to question, discuss and replicate.


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