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Happy 2020 my ITL readers! We made it to a New Year.

Around this time, when the festivities whine down, the bills come in and we are back to our regular routines it is common to experience the haunting realities of what is known as post-holiday depression. Depression is a mental illness which encompasses the feelings of constant sadness and misery.

From a psychological perspective mental illness is seen as a failure to adapt to the environment. Despite it not having a clear-cut definition it is typical for the illness to cause distress, dysfunction and impairment.

Before the 16thcentury some of the historical conceptions of mental illness saw it as a physical disorder which required treatment. The treatments back then were inhumane. In the 18thand 19thcentury, mental health patients began being treated with dignity, kindness and respect. There were no effective treatments; however, at least patients were no longer being tortured.

Today we are lucky to live in an era where the conversation has been started about mental health in order to fight the stigma against mental illnesses.

Stigma exists because some people do not understand what mental illness is. As a result, they demonstrate negative attitudes or beliefs towards it. Did you know that mental disorders include but are not limited to: phobias, mood and personality disorders?

Have you ever considered what some of the contributing factors might be that trigger some of the most common and recognizable mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression?

Not too long ago I found myself in a deep state of anxiety and the cause of this was a cohort of workplace bullies. Keep in the loop as I share my research paper on a very common behavior that normally has underlying psychological disorders.

One Behaviour Multiple Perspectives

Over the years bullying has become an issue that has been put on the national agenda through stories of youth and adults who have lived experiences of the treacherous mental and physical effects of the behaviour.

This paper will discuss the characteristics of the behaviour of bullying, what it looks like from a behaviourist psychological perspective, evolutionary psychological perspective while reviewing why the behaviour occurs. I will talk about who bullying impacts, when the behaviour happens, how it can be changed, my personal experience with the behaviour and similar behaviours.Using supporting writings from medical journals and articles, I will provide insight on how the different psychological perspectives frame and interact with bullying while giving a deeper understanding of the behaviour of bullying.

Bullying defined

Some consider bullying to be conduct used to control another person through the forms of physical, verbal or mental abuse. When verbal, this behaviour is typically expressed through a tone of voice, threatening body language, teasing, threats or exclusion. Physical bullying is expressed by acts of violence, which may start off as an intimidating nudge and then advance to a shove or hit. The bully and his or her behavioural conduct is unwanted and unwarranted by the victim.

Bullying is not easy to define because it takes on so many different forms. Essentially it is characterized from its delineation of repeated aggressive menacing acts by a person in a dominant position intended to harm the intended target’s health or economic status.

Behaviourist Psychological perspective

From the behaviourist psychological perspective bullying would only be studied by directly observing the behaviours of a bully and its independent variables such as institutions, personal history and social status for example. Early behaviourist such as B.F. Skinner focused on the relationships between stimuli – things that trigger changes in our internal or external states and responses to the ways we react to stimuli. For example, a child growing up in a home where there was no sign of positive affection would most likely bully other children on the playground and grow up to bully people in his or her workplace. If this child was socially rejected and unsuccessful academically, these factors could also contribute to why they bullied.

Evolutionary Psychological perspective

In the view of an evolutionary psychologist, he or she would study the brain and how genetic inheritance plays an important role in shaping the thoughts and behaviours of the bully. For example, one could argue that we come from ancestors who believed in dominance and hierarchy. In hierarchical structures, there are always the presence of bullies and this behaviour is the result of what goes wrong in a child’s developmental process.

Based on findings from Volk et al’s (2012) writings, it found that genetic factors play a role in the development of bullying. In addition to this, investigators found that in a cohort of over 1,000 10-year-old twins genetic differences accounted for 73% of the variation in victimization and 61% of the variation in bullying, with environmental factors accounting for the rest of the variation (p.9). As a result of these findings, it was established that without genetic linkages, evolution could not have influenced traits related to bullying. Therefore, bullying is heritable and has genetic links.


There are a number of reasons why people bully. This purposefully menacing behaviour

can be attributed to cultural influences, the impact of institutions such as the home, school or work, social issues, family issues, personal history and an array of other variables. Rigby’s (2005) article stated that the home environment of families that do not show love or share feelings are prone to producing bullies (p.1).

Rigby’s (2005) article, also found that if the institution at which the bullying takes place does not have high standards for the way people treat each other, then bulling may be more likely and/or prevalent and have an influence on why people bully (p.1). The article went on to say that the personal experiences of children who experience social rejection themselves and experience academic failure are more likely to bully Rigby (2005). Socially, it has become evident that one gets more social recognition for negative behaviours than for positive ones and this can also contribute to the reasons why people bully (Hamm, 2015).

An insatiable hunger for power is another reason why people bully. Hamm’s (2015) article found people may be given power without being trained in leadership skills that will help them wield it wisely.

As highlighted through various articles, there are innumerable reasons and contributing factors as to why people bully. A common denominator as to why people bully seems to be evolutionary and deep rooted.

When and where does it happen

Men and women are bullies. According to Namie (2013) women comprise 58 percent of the perpetrator pool, while men represent 42 percent. When the targeted person is a woman,

she is bullied by a woman in 63 percent of cases; when the target is male, he is bullied by a man in 62 percent of incidents (p.2). Bullying in institutions, especially in the workplace is a widespread sub-lethal act of violence which crosses the boundaries of gender, race and organizational rank (Namie, 2003).

It occurs on playgrounds, in homes, workplaces, schools, nursing homes, military and in the police force for example. Bullying is the most common type of violence in contemporary North American society (Namie, 2003).

Is it hard to change it?

Since bullying is ignored by laws and employer policies it is a hard behaviour to change if it not punished by negative reinforcement. From a behavioural psychological perspective, negative reinforcement is removing an element to avoid an unwanted outcome. Therefore, without negative reinforcement it is impossible to change the bullying behaviour of the masses. In systematic instances, it may be slightly achievable to mitigate the bullying behaviour of some individuals if there are ramifications such as loss of pay and or suspensions.

How do we get better?

In my personal experience, the only way to get better is for victims to stand up to bullies, for institutions to enforce policies and for the legal system to apply laws that will reprimand bullies and neutralise the unwanted behaviour.

What is your history with the behaviour?

Namie (2003) found that most bullying is same-sex harassment and overall, women comprise of the majority of bullied people (90 percent) (p.2). Over the course of my academic and work life, there have been instances where I have been bullied by women in dominant positions, whether they were older than me, bigger than me, held a higher-ranking position than me, the perpetrators have all been women. For me these experiences were debilitating, taking a toll on my mental health. In work cases where I reported the bullying, the perpetrators were relocated to other regions and paid higher salaries. This is typically the process designed for bullies in the public service and this is why bullying is rampant in government offices. Bullies’ behaviours are rewarded by positive reinforcement which keeps the vicious cycle going.

What behaviours are similar?

Behaviours that are similar to bullying are: domestic violence, sexual harassment, personal space violation, constant negative judgement and negative gossip or joking.


These behaviours are similar to bullying for the fact that they are purposeful acts intended to cause the targeted person injury or discomfort.


Bullying is a behaviour that has been intrinsic in humans for eons. Looking at this behaviour from the behaviourist psychological perspective and evolutionary psychological perspective revealed why the behaviour develops and why it is so hard to mitigate. Through this research and my lived experience, I have learned that we can use the strategy of a bully against them by being like our ancestors. By taking collective actions through forming coalitions to propel ourselves into positions of dominance to stand up to bullies will show them that regardless of the rank, size, or age, bullying is a sign of weakness and not an attribute of strength.

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