Professor John Archer and Dr Jane Ireland of the University of Central Lancashire found no evidence to back the theory that 'bully-victims' – those who are both bullies and on the receiving end - are a special type of person.
Their findings, based on the anonymous input of 1,253 prisoners – men and women - from 11 British prisons, challenge current theories about bullying both in prisons and in schools.
Dr Ireland said: "Overall, our study showed a high frequency of prison bullying and victimization among the same individuals."
She added: "Bullying is an important issue for those who run prisons because it can influence overall morale. It also affects how much prisons can succeed in rehabilitating people and keeping them safe during detention."
For the project, prisoners were classified into one of four categories currently used extensively in studies of school bullying:
- 'Pure bullies', who bully others;
- 'Pure victims', who have been bullied;
- 'Bully-victims', or 'aggressive victims', who have both been bullied and bullied others; and
- 'Not-involved', who say they have neither been bullied nor intimidated others.
Professor Archer said: "The main reason this system is widely used in research is that bully-victims are regarded as showing different characteristics from those of pure bullies or victims. "They have been found to be more hostile and angry, and show a more negative attitude to prison authorities.
"We compared the responses of bullies and non-bullies, and victims and non-victims, and then how these two features combined, to assess whether being both bully and victim did actually produce any novel features.
"It didn't. All the differences were explained by the combined features of being a bully and a victim"
Among other things, they found no evidence that pure bullies took more care than bully-victims in choosing who it was safe to pick on.
Overall, 42 per cent of the prisoners admitted to one or more cases of bullying others, and 52 per cent claimed they had themselves been bullied at least once. Direct physical assault was in the minority – just six per cent saying they had attacked others, and nine per cent that they were victims. Verbal abuse, theft and indirect forms of bullying were more common.
Men were more likely than women to say that they would respond to bullying with aggression, whereas women tended to react with fear and avoiding the bully. Compared with those who had not been bullied, victims of bullying revealed more displaced aggression, such as kicking doors, revenge fantasies, and impulsiveness, all similar to bullies.
By contrast, they were also more prone to fear, a tendency to avoid bullies, and to self harm.
However, says the study, these traits were the same in victims whether or not they were also bullies; and bullies showed a range of different forms of aggression irrespective of whether they were also victims.
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION, CONTACT:
Or Lance Cole, Lesley Lilley or Becky Gammon at ESRC, on 01793 413032/413119/413122
NOTES FOR EDITORS
1. The research project 'An investigation of the characteristics of adult prisoners involved in bullying' was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). Professor Archer and Dr Jane Ireland are at the Psychology Department, University of Central Lancashire, PRESTON PR1 2HE.
2. Methodology: The research was based on an extensive questionnaire completed privately and anonymously by 1,253 adult offenders (728 men and 525 women) from 11 prisons in the UK. It consisted of three parts: one involved information on behaviour indicative of bullying; another involved demographic and prison-based behaviour, such as positive and negative acts towards staff or prison rules, as well as drug-related behaviour; a third involved a range of psychological measures associated with aggression.
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