Bullying Leads to More Bullying

Considering how widespread bullying is in today’s society it is crucial to examine, not only the long-term consequences of bullying, but also how bullying progresses over time. New research in Child Developmenthas discovered additional information on how the cycle of bullying may progress in very young children.  Dr. Jamie Ostrov set out to discover ”if what children receive from their peers (i.e. peer victimization or peer harassment) is associated with what they display to their peers in the future.” Specifically, he looked at both the victims of bullying (i.e., the children who were picked on) and the children who bully or harass to find whether the type of aggression received affected future victim displays of aggression (i.e. would someone who is physically bullied be more likely to show physical aggression, relational aggression, or both).

In his research, Dr. Ostrov sampled more than 100 children between the ages of 3 and 5 and found that children who experienced peer victimization were more likely to become aggressive.  Additionally, Children who had been victims of physical aggression were more likely to become physically aggressive and children who had been victims of relational aggression were more likely to display relational aggression in the future (e.g., taking a toy away, or saying, “You are not my friend”).  According to Dr. Ostrov’s research, the reason that  experiencing a certain type of aggression leads to that type of aggression has to do with social learning in that the children are simply doing what they see.   That social learning can be the result of experiencing the aggression or from simply observing aggression.

Dr. Ostrov also notes that it is important for teachers and administrators to intervene when bullying occurs, as bullying is widespread and can lead to serious psychological and social problems. He suggests that caregivers or teachers help the victimized child focus on coping with the aggression rather than focusing on retaliating against the aggression, which is what often happens. Also observed in Dr. Ostrov’s study was that victims of relational aggression were more likely, not only to be relationally aggressive in the future, but also to face more social rejection.  However, he acknowledges that more research is needed to better understand these relationships and he is continuing his longitudinal research on these long-term effects.

By Tonya Filz
Tonya Filz is a senior Psychology major at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.  She has a minor in Human Development and plans on attending graduate school to earn a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology.


  1. It is widely known that bullying leads to children becoming depressed or anti-social but it is interesting to see that they can also repeat the actions. A questions to be asked is what does a victim of physical or relational aggression feel that they gain by inflicting the same punishment on another individual? Is it that they have truly acquired the personality of a ‘bully’ or are they temporarily trying to justify what was done to them?

    None the less, I agree that care givers need to step up their involvement when they see it taking place. It has been accepted that bullying or being bullied is just a part of growing up but we know, now more than ever, that it shouldn’t be considered ‘normal’.

    1. In some ways, the tendency of the bullied to become bullies might reflect a couple things. First, modeling. They are simply doing what they have seen done. Second, it might help them feel more in control to repeat the act with them in the power position rather than as the victim. The same argument has been made regarding the victims of sexual abuse who go on to sexually abuse others.

  2. The fact that bullying causes kids to repeat the action is cause for concern. That means that the problem wil spiral out of control as more and more bullying occurs. I also agree that it is up to administrators to step up when they see it taking place in order to help solve the problem. I would also be interested to see the science behind road rage.

    1. I’m not sure if you saw the page of the blog dedicated to driving anger but that is what anger researchers call road rage. If you have any specific questions about it, though, I’m happy to try and answer them. You can post them here or in the “submit a question” link above.

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    1. Sergio,

      The only source is the Child Development article described. Any quotes come from an interview we did with the author.


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