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Guest Post: Recipe for Creating a Bully

Published: July 30, 2012 | Last Updated: June 23, 2022 By | 14 Replies Continue Reading

By Barbara Greenberg, PhD, Psychologist and Teen Parenting Expert

Wondering what the recipe is for creating a bully? Well, I have some good news.

We are beginning to have some answers thanks to a new study by Douglas Gentile and Brad Bushman published in the July issue of the Psychology of Popular Media Culture.

This study identified six risk factors that, when co-existing in the same individual, are good predictors of that individual’s risk of  becoming a bully and of, at some point, engaging in aggressive behavior.

When all six factors are present, risk of aggression increases significantly. One or two risk factors are not enough to create a bully, but when you get to three and past four risk factors the risk increases significantly. By six risk factors, as stated above, it is fairly likely that the individual will engage in aggressive behavior.

The study by Gentile and Bushman looked at 430 children ages 7-11 in grades 3-5 from 5 Minnesota schools. For this study, children and their teachers were surveyed twice in a year- usually six months apart. Physical aggression was measured using self-reports, peer nominations, and teacher reports of actual violence.

Risk factors for bully behavior

Here are the risk factors that predicted future aggression and bullying behavior:

1. A tendency toward hostility

2. Low parental involvement

3. Gender, with boys being more likely to be physically aggressive

4. A history of physical victimization

5. A history of prior physical fights

*and

6. Media violence exposure

It’s important to remember that media violence exposure alone is not enough to predict aggressive acts. It is only one piece of the puzzle. So, before you restrict your kids from all forms of media keep this study in mind.

This study may help us identify kids who are at risk for aggression and allow us to help them before they become entrenched in this sort of behavior. This is invaluable information for parents and educators. I would like to see this study repeated with kids of all ages as we wrestle with this troubling issue.


Dr. Greenberg and Dr. Jennifer Powell-Lunder are co-authors of Teenage as a Second Language: A Parent’s Guide to Becoming Bilingual. This post by Dr. Greenberg previously appeared on Galtime.com. 

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Category: Research on Children & Friendship

Comments (14)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    I am now replying to my own comment here to amend it since I hate to give false information. According to Wikipedia: the tomato is botanically a fruit, but for culinary purposes is considered a tomato. (The Supreme Court said so. )But since in life there is still a debate about whether it should be called a fruit or vegetable, that’s where I was coming from earlier.

  2. Anonymous says:

    I also pick up on word choices that aren’t precise. You call it “arguing semantics” and while I don’t do it for the purpose of “arguing,” I do notice when a word choice isn’t exactly precise. In this instance, I think today when people use the term ‘bully’ they mean it with a capital letter B; they mean it in a Very Serious, Even Law Suit way. And I don’t think that all behavior that seems similar to bullying (little ‘b”) is Bullying. So, no, I do not think of these words as mere synonyms. I don’t think in today’s world someone would write books and be interviewed on news shows for how to deal with “jerk” behavior. BULLYING is the big, bad buzz word, and it seems to me that BULLYING should be reserved for extremely aggressive, horrible behavior. Not just obnoxious, jerk, overbearing, bossy behavior. So, no. I don’t think jerk equals bully. I do agree that in the world some humans have always oppressed others; but oppression is a very big, serious word. That’s not the same thing as acting like a jerk. At the office there are coworkers who play games so they can appear to be effective and leaderlike. These games sometimes are jerk like. But does that mean all of these people are BULLIES or oppressors? No. See, if you want to get into semantics, you have to actually see the different meanings and shades of meanings of words. Playing semantics doesn’t mean just lumping words that have shades of some behavior into one big “they’re all the same” category. That would be like putting chopped tomatoes into a fruit salad because, after all, the tomato is a fruit.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Just a thought, but human beings have always oppressed others and been arrogant jerks. It’s who we are. I think we’re just carrying on the torch, if you will. If our generation wants to label arrogant jerks as bullies, sounds like a synonym to me. Jerk = bully.

    Thank you. That is all. & have a great day.

    I like to argue semantics. Lol!

  4. Anonymous says:

    When you’re in the midst of a problem, aside from your family, you can always run to your friend. Friendship comes with sweetness as well as bitterness. But in the end, you are still with each others arms.

  5. Anonymous says:

    I don’t agree at all that bullying is the rule. I don’t interpret control-freak bosses more interested in hanging on to their jobs as “bullies”; assholes–yes. Bullies–no. I don’t think the horrible incident of bullying and cruelty toward that woman bus driver by the school kis is “the rule” but rather a horrible exception. I’m not a starry eyed optimist, either. I see plenty of jerk behavior and self-centeredness to the point where I feel pretty disgusted by human behavior on some days. But I do not believe bullying is the rule and i don’t agere society is crumbling quickly. I do think civility and common dececy has taken a hit. But that’s a far cry from society crumbling. Just my view, folks. Just my view.

  6. Anonymous says:

    I think people shouldn’t bully fight or say meen things over the Internet and cyberbullying should stop too.

  7. Anonymous says:

    The workplace, schools, churches, and other institutions are going to be emptied out if we round up all bullies and send them off to be rehabilitated and punished. Don’t forget passive aggressive bullies, too. There are a million of those lurking everwhere.

  8. Anonymous says:

    I used to teach on this topic and i couldn’t agree more with anonymous that when we generalize typical bad behavior and label it almost to a point a criminality that we consider much bullying, that the real bullies are not differentiated from situations where people do bad things, but not at the same level as people who do bad things once in a while. When you think of the justice system, there are ways to determine the gravity of an act. Was it premeditated, intended to hurt, maim or damage, lacked conscience, what was the damamge done to the victim, etc. A bully is someone who consistently, through word and/or action hurts, intimidates, scares, or hurts someone physically, emotionally, socially. While the kids who commit the lesser acts of wrong that should not be categorized as bullying should be spoken to or disciplined depending on the kid and the act, they should not be placed in the same category as true bullies.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Bulllying behavior most definitely is rampant in our
    society. It isn’t the exception. It’s the rule. In workplaces, in schools and colleges – it is everywhere.
    It’s another glaring, damaging problem that isn’t addressed.

    Regarding the woman who was bullied by 4 middle school students on the school bus: nothing was going to be done about that, except that the women on
    The View discussed the lack of consequences and named most of the steps that were later taken to discipline the children involved. Of course, the administrators could say they already had something
    in the works, but the consequences were almost identical to what the women on The View had discussed days before. They brought the subject back up when the media announced that the children had
    apologized and the woman’s response was: that’s not enough. When you deliberately and viciously do something, an apology is worthless.

    There should be ZERO tolerance for bullying, at school
    at work, everywhere. Society is crumbling quickly. You should always be able to go up the ladder in any organization and find ethical people in charge, who will solve problems. In many places, there are no ethical people at the top.

  10. Anonymous says:

    This word is used SO often … I honestly don’t know what it means anymore. I mean, sure, extreme bullying like we used to know about. But these days, if someone is just obnoxious, pushy, overbearing, intimidating … they often are labeled “bullies.” Surely we need to have a consensus about the degree to which a behavior is “bullying.” Otherwise we should all have a personality and temperament transplant and all act generically neutral. I also think about decades ago when parents were more stern, used corporal punishment, were not warm and fuzzy, etc., and surely their behavior would have been deemed “bullying”, no? So wouldn’t that mean that generations of offspring would have learned bullying behavior and passed it down. So then that would mean the bulk of our society would be bullies. See, I’m just not buying this over obsession with “bullying” behavior. Because REAL bullies–the ones who torment and torture–are going to get lost in the shuffle. Maybe I”m all wet. If so, someone challenge me and let me know what you think. I am really trying to figure this whole thing out, for the sake of younger generations. I’m not just playing devil’s advocate. Thanks everyone.

  11. Anonymous says:

    I think bullying behavior is modeled somewhere in a child’s life, directed at them or someone else..either way it is shown to be effective and ACCEPTABLE…

  12. Anonymous says:

    This study is a little lacking in information. For one thing, it does not address the influence of the internet, how it makes it easier for bullies to bully. I also wonder where the child’s “tendency toward hostility” comes from. I am disturbed as well to learn that lack of parental involvement is supposed to be a factor. Today’s parents tend to be so overly involved, to an unhealthy degree (partly thanks to social media and cell phones, texting, etc., making it impossible for the child to learn independence). Now, thanks to this bullying study, they will be compelled to helicopter even more so around their children. I think we need a more detailed, in depth study.

  13. Anonymous says:

    Mine seemed like a time warp: same people running the show who ran the show 40 years ago; same people enthralled with those who ran the show this time same people who were enthralled 40 years ago. Honestly, BOR-ing!

  14. Anonymous says:

    I just attended my 40th high school reunion. It was interesting to see the former bullies all *grown up.* I wonder if they still resort to bullying behavior in a different, more adult form. And it was also interesting to see those who had been bullied -some look like they overcame it, while others looked like that had (internal) scars.

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