Definitions of Bullying: A Comparison of Terms Used, and Age and Gender Differences, in a Fourteen–Country International Comparison

Authors

  • Peter K. Smith,

  • Helen Cowie,

  • Ragnar F. Olafsson,

  • Andy P. D. Liefooghe


Abstract

The study of school bullying has recently assumed an international dimension, but is faced with difficulties in finding terms in different languages to correspond to the English word bullying. To investigate the meanings given to various terms, a set of 25 stick–figure cartoons was devised, covering a range of social situations between peers. These cartoons were shown to samples of 8– and 14–year–old pupils (N= 1,245; n= 604 at 8 years, n= 641 at 14 years) in schools in 14 different countries, who judged whether various native terms cognate to bullying, applied to them. Terms from 10 Indo–European languages and three Asian languages were sampled. Multidimensional scaling showed that 8–year–olds primarily discriminated nonaggressive and aggressive cartoon situations; however, 14–year–olds discriminated fighting from physical bullying, and also discriminated verbal bullying and social exclusion. Gender differences were less appreciable than age differences. Based on the 14–year–old data, profiles of 67 words were then constructed across the five major cartoon clusters. The main types of terms used fell into six groups: bullying (of all kinds), verbal plus physical bullying, solely verbal bullying, social exclusion, solely physical aggression, and mainly physical aggression. The findings are discussed in relation to developmental trends in how children understand bullying, the inferences that can be made from cross–national studies, and the design of such studies.

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