Peer involvement in bullying: insights and challenges for intervention

J Adolesc. 1999 Aug;22(4):437-52. doi: 10.1006/jado.1999.0238.


The purpose of this research was to examine the peer processes that occur during bullying episodes on the school playground. These processes were examined from a social learning perspective, allowing us to consider the effects of various types of reinforcement among bullies, victims, and peers. Fifty-three segments of video tape were examined. Each segment contained a peer group (two or more peers) that viewed bullying on the school playground. Peers were coded for actively joining or passively reinforcing the bully, and for actively intervening on behalf of the victim. On average, four peers viewed the schoolyard bullying, with a range from two to 14 peers. Averaged across all episodes, peers spent 54% of their time reinforcing bullies by passively watching, 21% of their time actively modelling bullies, and 25% of their time intervening on behalf of victims. Older boys (grades 4-6) were more likely to actively join with the bully than were younger boys (grades 1-3) and older girls. Both younger and older girls were more likely to intervene on behalf of victims than were older boys. The results were interpreted as confirming peers' central roles in the processes that unfold during playground bullying episodes. We discuss the results in terms of the challenges posed to peer-led interventions. Peers' anti-bullying initiatives must be reinforced by simultaneous whole-school interventions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aggression / psychology*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Dominance-Subordination*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Ontario
  • Peer Group*
  • Psychological Theory
  • Psychology, Child*
  • Videotape Recording