Closer Look Bullies and Whipping Boys from Childhood to Adulthood

The individual differences that emerge early in life sometimes have profound consequences, both for the life outcomes of individuals and for the impact on the social world. Norwegian psychologist Dan Olweus has conducted longitudinal studies of "bullies" and "whipping boys" (Olweus, 1978, 1979). The meanings of these terms are precisely what they sound like. Bullies are those who pick on and victimize other children. They do such things as tripping their victims in the hallway, pushing them into lockers, elbowing them in the stomach, demanding their lunch money, and calling them names.

Although the victims, or "whipping boys," do not have any external characteristics that appear to set them apart, they do have certain psychological characteristics. Most commonly, victims tend to be anxious, fearful, insecure, and lacking in social skills. They are emotionally vulnerable and may be physically weak as well, making them easy targets who don't fight back. The victims suffer from low self-esteem, lose interest in school, and often show difficulties establishing or maintaining friendships. They seem to lack the social support that might buffer them against bullies. It has been estimated that 10 percent of all schoolchildren are afraid of bullies during the school day, and most children have been victimized by bullies at least once (Brody, 1996).

In one longitudinal study, bullies and victims were identified through teacher nominations in Grade 6. A year later, the children attended different schools in different settings, having made the transition from elementary school to junior high school. At this different setting during Grade 7, a different set of teachers categorized the boys on whether they were bullies, victims, or neither. The results are shown in Table 5.3. As you can see from looking at the circled numbers in the diagonal in Table 5.3 the vast majority of the boys received similar classifications a year later, despite the different school, different setting, and different teachers doing the categorizing.

The bullying, however, does not appear to stop in childhood. When Olweus followed thousands of boys from grade school to adulthood, he found marked continuities. The bullies in childhood were more likely to become juvenile delinquents in adolescence and criminals in adulthood. An astonishing 65 percent of the boys who were classified by their Grade 6 teachers as bullies ended up having felony convictions by the time they were 24 years old (Brody, 1996). Many of the bullies apparently remained bullies throughout their lives. Unfortunately, we don't know the fate of the victims, other than that they tended not to get involved in criminal activities.

A study of 228 children, ranging in age from 6 to 16, found several fascinating personality and family relationship correlates of bullying (Connolly & O'Moore, 2003). A total of 115 children were classified as "bullies" based on both their own self-ratings and on the basis of at least two of their classmates categorizing them as bullies. These were then compared with 113 control children, who both did not nominate themselves as bullies and were not categorized as bullies by any of their classmates. The bullies scored higher on the Eysenck scales of Extraversion, Neuroti-cism, and Psychoticism (see Chapter 3). Bullies, in short, tended to be more outgoing and gregarious (extraversion); emotionally volatile and anxious (neu-roticism); and impulsive and lacking in empathy (psychoticism). In addition, the bullies, relative to the controls, expressed more ambivalence and conflict with their family members, including their brothers, sisters, and parents. Conflicts in the home, in short, appear to be linked to conflicts these children get into during school, pointing to a degree of consistency across situations.

Table 5.3 Longitudinal Classification of Boys in Aggressive Behaviors

Grade 6_Bully_Neither_Victim

Neither 9 (200 15

and final testing. As you can see, marked individual dif ferences in aggression emer ge very early in life, certainly by the age of 3 (Olweus, 1979). Individuals retain their rank order stability on aggression to a substantial degree over the years. And, as we have seen with infant temperament and childhood activity level, the stability coef ficients ten to decline as the interval between the two times of measurement increases.

In sum, we can conclude that individual dif ferences in personality emer ge very early in life—most likely in infancy for some traits and certainly by early childhood for other traits, such as aggression. These individual differences tend to be moderately stable over time, so that the persons who are high on a particular trait tend to remain high on that dimension. Indeed, childhood personality at age 3 turns out to be a good predictor of adult personality at age 26 (Caspi et al., 2003). And, finall , the stability coefficients gradually decline over time as the distance between testings increases

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