A systematic review of bullying definitions: how definition and format affect study outcome

Date08 April 2019
Published date08 April 2019
AuthorBen Younan
Subject MatterHealth & social care,Criminology & forensic psychology,Aggression, conflict & peace,Sociology,Gender studies,Gender violence,Political sociology, policy & social change,Social conflicts,War/peace
A systematic review of bullying definitions:
how definition and format affect
study outcome
Ben Younan
Purpose The purpose of this paper is to explore how varying definitions of bullying and formats of the
definitions affect research study outcomes.
Design/methodology/approach A systematic search of empirical studies within the following databases
was conducted: PubMed, Scopus, Science Direct, Web of Science and Wiley Online Library. Empirical
studies examining laypersons and researchers definitions of bullying or how differences in the format of the
definition of bullying results in varied outcomes were eligible to be included in this review. As traditional forms
of bullying differ from cyber-bullying research on the latter were excluded.
Findings Only 17 of the 18,045 screened met the study eligibility criteria. In total, 12 of the screened
studies explored how participants define bullying and five explored how the different presentation of the
definition may lead to different reported prevalence. The findings showed that laypersons definitions of
bullying are not only inconsistent but they rarely meet the criteria used by researchers. The varying
presentations of the bullying definition also affected outcomes with the more detailed definitions leading to a
better understanding of the behaviour.
Research limitations/implications Researchers should always provide a definition of bullying to
participants either in a written format or if possible in a more detail like an educational video that clearly
highlights the five characteristics researchers used to define the behaviour.
Originality/value This is the first paper that reviews empirical studies on the definition of bullying.
Keywords Definition, Bullying, Victim, Bully, Target, Perpetrator
Paper type General review
A general acknowledgement within the literature is the absence of a universally recognised
definition of bullying (Esbensen and Carson, 2009; Migliaccio and Raskauskas, 2016;
Smith, 2011). There is also a growing body of literature that recognises the importance of the
definition of bullying and that slight variances can result in different outcomes (Baly and Cornell,
2011; Frisén et al., 2008; Gordillo, 2011). On a theoretical, conceptual and research level, the
definition of bullying is important because it allows comparisons to be made both nationally and
cross-nationally while on a practical level a consistent understanding of bullying would allow for
more reliable intervention strategies (OMoore and Minton, 2004).
Dan Olweus (1973) pioneered bullying research by being one of the first to explore bullying within
a school setting. Olweus(1994) definition of bullying stated that a student is being bullied or
victimised when he or she is exposed, repeatedly and over time, to negative actions on the part
of one or more other students(p. 1173). Olweus (1994) further stated that these adverse actions
involve intentionally causing or attempting to cause distress to others and included exclusion
from the group, obscene gestures, physical harm (e.g. kicking, hitting), and verbal distress
(e.g. yelling, spreading rumours). An imbalance of power between the bully(s) and victim(s) needs
to exist in order to be classified as bullying (Dake et al., 2003). The section of the definition
Received 10 February 2018
Revised 14 July 2018
Accepted 14 July 2018
Ben Younan is PhD Student at
the RMIT University,
Melbourne, Australia.
DOI 10.1108/JACPR-02-2018-0347 VOL. 11 NO. 2 2019, pp.109-115, © Emerald Publishing Limited, ISSN 1759-6599

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