Does research on predicting bullying behaviors by kids yield insights for identifying future workplace aggressors?


In a recent column for Yahoo! Shine, Barbara Greenberg summarizes a study by Douglas Gentile and Brad Bushman, published in the journal Psychology of Popular Media Culture, that identifies six “risk factors that predicted future aggression and bullying behavior” in kids:

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


6. media violence exposure.

Here’s how the study was conducted:

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.

Any relevance to workplace bullying?

The question of identifying likely workplace aggressors comes up more than occasionally in discussions about preventing bullying at work.

However, most of the popular and academic literature examining aggressors at work focuses on actual behaviors rather than identifying risk factors. There definitely are research opportunities in this realm.

Furthermore, workplace bullying tends to be in the form of psychological rather than physical abuse, so practically speaking it’s less likely that there will be a documented record of prior risk-level behaviors. Even if such a record exists, it is improbable that it will be shared among stakeholders in a position to act preventively, given standard human resources practices and confidentiality/privacy issues concerning employee evaluations.

Equally important is whether employers would even want to be able to “profile” candidates for hiring and promotion based on their supposed propensity to engage in abusive mistreatment of co-workers. Various commercially marketed personality tests may help to identify certain counterproductive traits, but their reliability as pre-employment screening devices is highly questionable.

It’s a topic rife with complications, much different from school situations.


Although the full journal article is not freely available, go here for the posted abstract:

4 responses

  1. The factors listed may not be so helpful in identifying female bullies. They used psychological tactics almost all the time which many don’t even notice.

  2. My female bully -who is, also, my immediate supervisor- has a long predatory history of utilizing more subtle psychological tactics in order to intimidate her targets. However, at times, when she feels desperate to reassure herself that she has toxic superiority over her prey and/or when she is struggling with her own self-esteem issues, she will resort to yelling and name calling in order to remind her targets who is dominate, as well as using the tactic as a means to mood alter. At least those are my perceptions of her very predictable behavior over the spanf of the past eight and a half years.

    She, also, uses the latter tactics as a means in which to test her targets’ level of gullibility as well as self-assertiveness and self-advocacy skills in the earlier phases of the grooming process.

    In my case, I did not catch onto what she was doing earlier on, so she had the opportunity to ‘sink her teeth into me’, so to speak. I was not sophisticated, at that time, as to how to identify an extremely toxic workplace bully, so as a result, I put forth the sincerest of efforts to contribute to enhancing our workplace relationship, which only enabled her to perceive me as an even easier target.

    As time passed and as I developed a heightened awareness of how toxic our relationship was/is, at times, I would share with the CEO that my supervisor’s behavior towards me is more about her personal history than it is about our work relationship. I would, also, provide concrete examples – over time – to support my premise.

    The CEO is most certainly an enabler, and the extent of his toxic participation seems to reveal a prolonged history of supporting the bully.. However, he is, also, a perpetrator, at times, and he is not above resorting to psychological intimidation, primarily through fierce and prolonged eye contact and the inappropriate use of reprimands without being respectfully accompanied by any substantive rationale, which can result in the target experiencing a sense of being disoriented and confused as to what his workplace expectations truly are. These tactics clearly serve to keep the target off-center.

    At times, he has and will align with my supervisor and present complaints based upon inaccurate assumptions in order to support her need to maintain a sense of negative control, as well as appease her voracious appetite.

    Challenging assumptions has been one of my self-identified tasks, as I am aware that the assumptions are used as weapons to oppress and negatively control someone, especially when the assumptions do not have any factual foundation to them.

    Dealing with bullies and their enablers/cohorts almost seems like a full-time job in and of itself. I do find that being able to share thoughts and ideas about our experiences to be a vital component of the recovery process.

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