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Keywords:

  • Bully;
  • victim;
  • social skills;
  • theory of mind

Bullying in schools has been found to be widespread. The popular stereotype of a bully, supported by theories based on the social skills deficit model, is of a powerful but ‘oafish’ person with little understanding of others. In this article, we trace the origin of this view, and present an alternative view: that some bullies, at least, will need good social cognition and theory of mind skills in order to manipulate and organise others, inflicting suffering in subtle and damaging ways while avoiding detection themselves. Such skills, although likely to be utilised in all bullying, may be particularly useful for ringleader bullies and in the indirect forms of bullying which are more common between girls. Suggestions for further research in this area are made, and implications for anti-bullying work briefly discussed.