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Identification of school bullies by survey methods.

How can middle school counselors identify bullies? This study compared two methods of identifying bullies in a sample of 386 middle school students. A peer nomination survey identified many more bullies than did student self-report. Moreover, self-reported and peer-nominated bullies differed in their types of bullying behaviors, level of general self-concept, attitudes toward aggression, and disciplinary infractions. Overall, this study raises concern about reliance on student self-report and supports the use of peer nomination as a means of identifying school bullies. These findings have implications for school counselors in undertaking efforts to reduce school bullying.


School bullying is a pervasive problem. The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development supported a survey with a representative sample of more than 15,000 students in Grades 6 through 10 in public and private schools. The study found that approximately 1.7 million children in Grades 6 through 10--nearly one student in five--admitted bullying their classmates. More than 10% of children reported bullying others "sometimes" and 9% admitted to bullying others "once a week" or more. Bullying was most frequent in Grades 6 through 8 and occurred at similar levels in urban, suburban, and rural schools (Nansel et al., 2001). Bullying became a national concern in the United States after the news media reported, and studies by the FBI (O'Toole, 2000) and Secret Service (Vossekuil, Fein, Reddy, Borum, & Modzeleski, 2002) confirmed, that a series of rampage school shootings were motivated in large part by students seeking revenge for bullying.

Studies have found that bullies tend to hold positive attitudes toward aggression, such as believing that fighting will make them popular, that fighting is an effective way to solve a problem, and that victims deserve what happens to them (Bentley & Li, 1995; Olweus, 1997). There is a general assumption that bullies suffer from low self-concept, but studies have not supported this view (Olweus, 1993, 1997; Rigby & Slee, 1993).

Other studies have found that bullies have negative attitudes toward school and are more likely to commit disciplinary infractions than are nonbullies (Clarke & Kiselica, 1997; Espelage, Bosworth, & Simon, 2000; O'Moore & Hillery, 1991). A Norwegian study (Olweus, 1991) found that students identified as bullies in Grades 6 through 9 were four times more likely to be involved in serious criminal activity as adults than were their peers. These findings support the need for school counselors to identify bullies so that they can prevent victimization and help aggressive youth interact in more appropriate ways with their classmates.

Bullying is often covert and difficult to detect, which poses a challenge for counselors and teachers in attempting to help victims and stop bullying. Bullying is especially likely to occur in restrooms, at bus stops, or on school buses when adult supervision is limited (Espelage, Asiadao, & Chavez, 1998). Nevertheless, a school climate study (Whitney & Smith, 1993) revealed 30% of elementary and middle school students reported being bullied in the classroom without any form of teacher intervention. Unfortunately, teachers often do not detect bullying and many victims of bullying do not seek help from school staff because they believe that their teachers will not take effective action (Unnever & Cornell, 2004).

Although there has been considerable interest in interventions for victims of bullying (Juvonen & Graham, 2001), school counselors must be prepared to work with students who bully their peers as well. Intervention efforts with bullies can be especially effective because a single bully may have multiple victims. Counseling services for bullies can include helping these students to improve their social skills, manage angry feelings, develop empathy for others, and learn better problem-solving strategies (Clarke & Kiselica, 1997; Hoover & Oliver, 1996).


Although there are many definitions of bullying used throughout the literature, most share the notion that bullying behaviors can be either physical or verbal, are unprovoked by the victim, and represent a "systematic abuse of power" (Smith & Sharp, 1994, p. 2). Olweus (1991, 1993) stressed that bullying always involves a power imbalance between the bully and victim, as distinguished from a conflict between rivals.

Most definitions categorize bullying behaviors as physical, verbal, or social. Physical bullying refers to attacks on the victim, such as kicking, pushing, or hitting. Verbal bullying consists of teasing, taunting, or mocking the victim (Ohveus, 1991). In contrast, social or relational bullying involves manipulating the social status of an individual within his or her peer group by changing the way others perceive and respond to the individual. Examples of social or relational bullying include telling false stories or spreading rumors about someone and encouraging peers not to associate with someone (Crick & Grotpeter, 1995; Olweus).

Researchers have relied primarily on self-report surveys to measure bullying. This method of assessment generally consists of paper-and-pencil questionnaires that are completed anonymously by the students. In most studies, students are given a definition of bullying and then asked to report how often they engage in different kinds of bullying behaviors (Salmivalli, Karhunen, & Lagerspetz, 1996). Salmivalli et al. found that simply asking students to respond to the statement "I bully others" often produced unreliable self-reports, because many students who bully do not consider their behavior as bullying. To obtain more accurate results, many researchers (Bosworth, Espelage, & Simon, 1999; Olweus, 1991; Smith & Sharp, 1994) asked students about the frequency of specific behaviors such as teasing, name calling, or hitting.

Solberg and Olweus (2003) contended that self-reports are the best means of measuring bullying; however, self-reports can underestimate the prevalence of bullying if students are unwilling to admit socially undesirable behaviors or are unaware that their behavior constitutes bullying. Some bullies insist they are just "having fun" or "joking around" even though their behavior is intimidating or distressing to their victims. The most important limitation of anonymous self-report surveys from a counseling standpoint is that they yield estimates of the prevalence of bullying but do not help counselors identify the specific students involved in bullying.

Peer nomination (or peer report) represents an alternative approach to identifying bullies. The peer nomination method usually involves asking students to write down the names of classmates who match a descriptive statement, such as "someone who bullies others." Students who receive nominations beyond some cutoff point are considered to be possibly involved in bullying. It should be emphasized that counselors would not conclude that a student was bullying others based on peer nominations alone, but would use the peer nomination results as a basis for further investigation, such as interviewing students and consulting with teachers.

Although peer nomination is not widely used in the literature on bullying, peer reports are a standard method of assessing peer social status ranging from peer aggression to popularity (Ladd & Kochenderfer-Ladd, 2002). Left, Power, and Goldstein (2004) reviewed the most commonly used measures to evaluate the effectiveness of bullying prevention programs (i.e., nursing logs of injuries, discipline referrals, student self-report measures, teacher-reported measures, peer sociometric measures, and behavioral observation systems). They concluded that peer nominations have strong concurrent and predictive validity, and are the "methodology of choice for identifying perpetrators" (p. 282).

Xiao and Matsuda (1998) examined the relationship among teacher, peer, and self ratings of perceived aggression and withdrawal. They found that peer-teacher agreement was significantly greater than peer-self agreement and teacher-self agreement in perception of aggression. These results were consistent with findings by Ledingham, Younger, Schwartzman, and Bergeron (1982) that children with social difficulties (e.g., aggression and withdrawal) might not perceive their own social problems the same way as their peers and teachers do.


The current study compared three groups of students: bullies identified by self-report, bullies identified by peer nomination, and students not identified as bullies by self-report or peer nomination (nonbully group). We addressed three primary questions: (a) How do self-reported bullies and peer-nominated bullies compare in the frequency and type of bullying behaviors? (b) How do self-reported and peernominated bullies compare in levels of general selfconcept, attitudes toward aggression and bullying, and disciplinary infractions? And, (c) how do self-reported and peer-nominated bullies differ from peers who do not bully?



The stud), was conducted in a middle school serving 581 students (176 sixth graders, 205 seventh graders, and 200 eighth graders) in a mixed rural and suburban area of central Virginia. Students completed a confidential survey at school during the fall semester. Of the 581 students, 416 (72%) completed the survey. Participant ages ranged from 10 to 14. Thirty-four percent of the students were in the sixth grade, 35% were in seventh grade, and 31% were in eighth grade. Approximately 78% of the participants identified themselves as Caucasian, 12.3% as African-American, 3.9% as Hispanic, 2.4% as Asian-American, 1.0% as Native American, and 1.9% as other. Approximately 30% of the students received free or reduced school lunch. On sixth-grade Stanford 9 testing, the student averages were at the 56th percentile for language arts, 66th percentile for math, and 61st percentile for reading.


The School Climate Survey (Brockenbrough, 2001) is a self-report questionnaire using items and scales from previously developed instruments to assess physical, verbal, and social bullying. The survey items used were similar to those on the Physical, Verbal, and Social Manipulation subscales of Mynard and Joseph's (2000) Multidimensional Peer-Victimization Scale. The six items designed to assess the frequency and type of bullying behavior asked students to report the number of times in the past month that they had engaged in physical bullying ("I hit or kicked someone on purpose" and "I grabbed or shoved someone on purpose"), verbal bullying ("I threatened to hurt someone or take their things" and "I said mean things to someone or called someone names"), and social bullying ("I told others not to be someone's friend" and "I did not let someone join what I was doing"). The correlations between pairs of items in this sample were r = .61 for physical bullying, .36 for verbal bullying, and .31 for social bullying.

Five items were selected from the Beliefs Measure (Slaby & Guerra, 1988) and the Safe Schools Survey (Cornell & Loper, 1998) that assessed student attitudes toward aggression and bullying: "If someone threatens you, it is okay to hit that person"; "It feels good when I hit someone"; "If you fight a lot, everyone will look up to you"; "Sometimes you have only two choices--get punched or punch the other kid first"; and "If you are afraid to fight, you won't have any friends." The 5-point Likert responses ranged from "strongly agree" to "strongly disagree." The Cronbach's alpha for the attitudes toward aggression and bullying scale was .72.

The general-self scale, modified from the Self-Description Questionnaire-I (Marsh, Smith, & Barnes, 1983), contained eight items to measure the student's overall self-perception (e.g., "In general, I like being the way I am," and "Overall, I have a lot to be proud of"). Each item was measured on a 5-point Likert scale ranging from "strongly agree" to "strongly disagree." Alpha for the general-self scale was .65.

The school's administrative offices provided a record of the number and type of school-wide discipline referrals in the months following the survey administration (October through April). A discipline referral form was filled out when students were referred to the main office for behavioral problems. Some examples of common behavioral referrals were bus discipline problems, disruptive behavior, and fighting. From these records, scores were tabulated for each student for total discipline referrals, detentions, and suspensions from school.

Surveys were excluded if (a) demographic items were left blank or marked with an unusable value (missing or inappropriate grade level, gender, age); or (b) the validity item "I am telling the truth on this survey" was marked "neither agree nor disagree," "disagree," or "strongly disagree." Previous studies have supported the use of similar validity items to detect surveys in which the students either did not read carefully or identified themselves as not answering honestly (Cornell & Loper, 1998).


The School Climate Survey was administered to consenting students approximately one month after the start of the school year. Students were told not to write their name on the survey, but to seal it in an envelope with their name printed on the outside. Each student was assigned a code number that was used to compare students' self-report answers to the peer nomination data.

Students were presented with a standard definition of bullying adapted from the Olweus Bully/ Victim Questionnaire:
 We say someone is bullying when he or she
 hits, kicks, grabs, or shoves you on purpose. It
 is also bullying when a student threatens or
 teases you in a hurtful way. It is also bullying
 when a student tries to keep others from being
 your friend or from letting you join in what
 they are doing. It is not bullying when two
 students of about the same strength argue or
 fight. (Olweus, 1993)

Following this definition, students were asked to report the number of times they had bullied others in the past month ("By this definition, I have bullied others in the past month"). Response categories were "never," "once or twice," "about once per week," and "several times per week." Students were classified as self-reported bullies if they had admitted to bullying their peers "about once per week" or more.

Peer nomination data were collected 2 weeks following the self-report survey administration. Using the same bully definition from the original survey, students were asked to nominate up to three students in their class as bullies on a confidential and anonymous form. Five hundred and fifteen students (88.6%) completed the nomination forms. We considered that a single nomination might not be sufficient indication that a student actually engaged in bullying behavior, so we established a criterion of two or more nominations to be categorized in the bullying group. Detailed analyses of various cutoff points are reported elsewhere (Brockenbrough, 2001; Cornell & Brockenbrough, 2004).


Thirty surveys (7%) were excluded for inappropriate responses to the validity item ("I am telling the truth on this survey"). The final sample (N = 386) consisted of 186 (48%) males and 200 (52%) females. Approximately 34% of the sample were in the sixth grade, 37% were in seventh grade, and 29% were in eighth grade.

The number of bully nominations ranged from 0 to 22. Two hundred and sixty students (67.7%) received no bully nominations, 54 students (14.1%) received one nomination, 21 students (5.5%) received two nominations, and 49 students (12.7%) received more than two peer nominations. Our final sample included 305 students (79.4%) classified as non-bullies and 79 students (20.6%) classified into one of the two bully groups: 9 self-reported bullies and 70 peer-nominated bullies. The correlation between self-reported bullying and peer nomination was virtually zero (r = .003), (1) with only two students fitting both criteria (these two were excluded from subsequent analyses). In total, 62 (79%) of the students identified as bullies were males and 18 (21%) were females. Approximately 34% of the identified bullies were sixth graders, 32% were seventh graders, and 34% were eighth graders.

We conducted two planned orthogonal comparisons: Non-bullies were compared to identified bullies (self-reported and peer-nominated) and then self-reported bullies were compared to peer-nominated bullies (see Table 1). Identified bullies demonstrated significantly higher levels of bullying behavior than non-bullies: physical, F (1, 382) = 29.44, p < .001, [[eta].sup.2] =.072; verbal, F (1, 382) = 18.11, p < .001, [[eta].sup.2] = .045; and social, F(1,382) = 14.143, p < .001, [[eta].sup.2] = .036. There was no significant difference in general self-concept between bullies and non-bullies; however, bullies showed more positive attitudes toward aggression and bullying than did non-bullies, F(1,382) = 17.36, p < .001, [[eta].sup.2] = .043. The bullies and non-bullies differed in overall disciplinary referrals, F(1,382) = 40.44, p < .001, [[eta].sup.2] = .096; detentions, F(1,382) = 31.34, p < .001, [[eta].sup.2] = .076; and suspensions, F (1, 382) = 43.70, p < .001, [[eta].sup.2] = .103. In all three cases, identified bullies received more disciplinary infractions than did non-bullies.

There were no statistically significant differences between the two bully groups by gender or grade level. However, the two groups differed in their levels of involvement in bullying behavior. Self-reported bullies endorsed a greater frequency of physical, verbal, and social bullying than did peer-nominated bullies. Univariate analyses showed that the two bully groups differed on their general self-concept scores, F(1, 77) = 8.04, p < .01, [[eta].sup.2] = .095, with the peer-nominated bullies showing higher levels of general self-concept than the self-reported bullies. The two bully groups also differed in their attitudes toward aggression and bullying, F (1, 77) = 18.47, p < .001, [[eta].sup.2] = .193. Self-reported bullies endorsed more positive attitudes toward aggression and bullying than did peer-nominated bullies.

Self-reported bullies and peer-nominated bullies differed in disciplinary referrals, F (2, 381) = 22.40, p < .001, [[eta].sup.2] = .105; detentions, F(2, 381) = 17.41, p < .001, [[eta].sup.2] = .084; and suspensions, F (2,381) = 24.06, p < .001, [[eta].sup.2] = .112. In all three cases, peer-nominated bullies received more disciplinary consequences than did self-reported bullies.


Our findings indicate that counselors who rely on student self-report to measure the prevalence of bullies in their school will obtain markedly different results than if they use peer nominations. Self-report surveys of bullying are used much more frequently than peer nominations (Nansel et al., 2001; Olweus, 1997; Rigby & Slee, 1993; Solberg & Olweus, 2003), but this method may greatly underestimate the number of bullies in middle school.

Overall, most students did not report involvement in physical, verbal, or social bullying on the self-report survey. Only a small number (N = 9) of students admitted to directly engaging in bullying behaviors. Students might have been unwilling to admit bullying others or they might have been unaware that their behavior was regarded as bullying by others. Despite denying their involvement, 70 students were nominated by two or more of their peers as perpetrators of bullying. However, peer nomination methods must be viewed with caution, too, because some students could have nominated classmates as a joke or identified peers that they did not like. For this reason, we selected students who were nominated by at least two classmates. In 49 of 70 cases (70%), students were identified by three or more classmates.

There was not a statistically significant difference between identified bullies and non-bullies in general self-concept. This finding is contrary to some reports in the literature (O'Moore & Hillery, 1991) but consistent with the view that at least some aggressive youth may have an overly positive perception of their status (Baumeister, Smart, & Boden, 1996). There were statistically significant self-concept differences, however, between the self-reported bullies and the peer-nominated bullies. Peer-nominated bullies endorsed items such as "I have a lot to be proud of," "I like being the way I am," and "A lot of things about me are good" at a higher level than did self-reported bullies. Rigby and Slee (1993) suggested that a bully's self-concept is maintained by the "sense of power they gain through dominating and humiliating those weaker than themselves" (p. 373). Individuals who are able to dominate others may be expected, therefore, to have a similar or higher self-concept than those who are not (i.e., victims) (Bjorkqvist, Osterman, & Kaukiainen, 1992; Olweus, 1993, 1997).

The combined group of self-reported and peer-nominated bullies endorsed more positive attitudes toward aggression and bullying than did non-bullies. This finding is consistent with other studies showing a link between bullying and aggressive attitudes (Huesmann & Guerra, 1997; Perry, Perry, & Rasmussen, 1986; Slaby & Guerra, 1988). Pikas (1989) developed the Common Concern Method, a bullying intervention program that focused on changing aggressive attitudes and student interactions. The goal of the model was to foster empathy among bullies for their victims and to help students take ownership of the bullying problem and responsibility for its resolution (Hoover & Oliver, 1996). School counselors should work with bullies to identify the fallacies in their beliefs about aggression, such as their belief that aggression will make them popular or that victims deserve what happens to them.

Peer-nominated bullies endorsed lower levels of involvement in bullying behavior--such as hitting or kicking someone on purpose, threatening to hurt someone, or telling peers not to be someone's friend--than did self-reported bullies. Peer-nominated bullies also were less likely to endorse positive attitudes toward aggression than were self-reported bullies. These findings suggest that bullies who fail to admit their involvement in bullying are also less likely to admit aggressive attitudes and behavior. This means that school counselors cannot rely on indirect measures of bullying such as self-reports of fighting and hitting others to identify possible bullies.

Peer-nominated bullies were a high-risk group who received more disciplinary infractions over the course of the school year than did other students. In fact, peer-nominated bullies received almost four times as many disciplinary infractions as non-bullies. Furthermore, they were three times as likely to receive detention and they were about six times as likely to be suspended from school as non-bullies. These observations provide independent corroboration that students identified as bullies by their peers have behavioral adjustment problems. Peer-identified bullies are good candidates for preventive counseling services and deserve prompt intervention when behavior problems surface.

The few students who were willing to admit bullying others on the self-report survey were probably less concerned about self-disclosure and more willing to admit other aggressive behavior, too. Unfortunately, few of the students perceived as bullies by their peers were willing to admit this behavior on the self-report instrument. Although self-report is widely used in schools to assess the level of bullying (Nansel et al., 2001; Rigby & Slee, 1993), the students identified by this method appear to differ substantially from those identified by their classmates.


A limitation of this study was that the sample size of the self-reported bully group was small (9) and did not provide much statistical power for analyses. In addition, in a larger sample it would be possible to identify a third group of students who were identified as bullies by both methods.

It is possible that fewer students were willing to identify themselves as bullies on the self-report survey because the survey was not completely anonymous. Students were instructed to put their names on the outside of the survey (so that researchers could match survey respondents to school discipline records), but they were assured that their answers would not be revealed to school personnel and would remain confidential. Perhaps this procedure nonetheless discouraged students from identifying themselves as bullies, although it must be pointed out that 30 students were willing to admit they were not telling the truth on the survey. Moreover, a study of the "Monitoring the Future" survey found little difference between anonymous and confidential conditions for adolescent self-report (O'Malley, Johnston, Bachman, & Schulenberg, 2000). The Monitoring the Future survey is administered annually to nationally representative samples of adolescents and includes a lengthy series of questions concerning personal use of illegal drugs and alcohol, as well as delinquent behaviors such as stealing and weapon carrying. In 1998, half of the youths were administered the survey with explicit assurance that their answers were anonymous and so could not be linked to them, while the other half were told that their answers would be held in confidence but were required to report their name and address to the researchers. There were little or no differences in the reporting of sensitive information under the two conditions (O'Malley et al.).

Finally, the modest internal consistency of the measures of bullying behavior, self-concept, and aggressive attitudes could have depressed the correlations with self- and peer-reported bullying. It also would be desirable to obtain additional measures of these constructs, perhaps through teacher ratings or classroom observation, that were independent of the survey instrument.

Implications for School Counselors

The impact of bullying extends beyond the individual victim to affect many other students (Hoover & Hazler, 1991). Students who observe bullying may fear that they could be the next target, or they may feel guilt), that they stood by and permitted the bullying to take place. Worse, some students may be encouraged to emulate the bully and become bullies themselves. Unnever and Cornell (2003) described a "culture of bullying" in middle school in which students come to expect that bullying will take place and teachers will do little to stop it.

Bullying becomes more serious and more difficult to prevent the longer it continues. "By the time these children reach middle school, they have not only developed a pervasive pattern of aggressive behavior but have also acquired sophisticated methods that can make them more difficult to detect as well as discipline" (Bonds & Stoker, 2000, p. 341). In order to implement effective intervention strategies for bullying and aggression, it is necessary to develop better strategies to identify at-risk youth (Atlas & Pepler, 1998).

One clear advantage of peer nomination is that counselors not only can assess the prevalence of bullying, they also can identify students who are possible bullies. Although counselors should not conclude that a student is a bully based on peer nominations alone, they could follow up on the results by interviewing and observing students to determine if bullying is taking place. According to Clarke and Kiselica (1997), a major purpose of a school-wide assessment of bullying is to ascertain the current extent of the problem and to identify perpetrators who require counseling services and additional support.

Peer nomination and self-report measures should be given in the context of a school-wide assessment of bullying. Teachers must be prepared in survey administration and motivated to create a receptive classroom environment to attain valid survey results (Cornell, Cole, & Sheras, in press). Cross and Newman-Gonchar (2004) proposed that administrator training may be a critical factor in obtaining more consistent and trustworthy survey data.

School counselors can work with teachers to alleviate any concerns they may have about survey administration. Sometimes teachers fear that a peer nomination procedure will arouse anxiety in students or be disruptive to the classroom. Students should be advised that the purpose of the survey is to prevent students from being bullied, and that because oftentimes students are reluctant to come forward and seek help for bullying, or to seek help for their friends who are being bullied, the peer nomination provides them with a means to do so (Unnever & Cornell, 2004). Left et al. (2004) suggested that teachers and school counselors fully debrief students after using the peer nomination procedure. They suggested that teachers explain why students are been requested to rate others in their class and talk about the importance of keeping their responses confidential. In practice, we have observed that peer nominations can be conducted in a straightforward and low-key manner that does not generate undue anxiety or distress among students.

Concerns about peer nomination procedures must be weighed against the cost of failing to identify bullies and their victims. The ability to identify bullies and victims of bullying is critically important to any bully prevention effort. Moreover, in cases of severe or chronic bullying, we believe that counselors and teachers have an obligation to use all reasonable means to stop it from continuing.

Interventions with identified aggressive youth must begin with behavior management (Bonds & Stoker, 2000; Clarke & Kiselica, 1997). Students must receive clear instructions that bullying will not be permitted and will have disciplinary consequences. It is important that students perceive that discipline is "firm but fair" and applied equally to everyone (Sprague & Golly, 2004).

In addition to disciplinary consequences for bullying, schools should make ample use of incentives and rewards for appropriate behavior, consistent with the philosophy of positive behavior support (Sprague & Golly, 2004). Counselors should encourage teachers to emphasize positive consequences and recognition for peer behavior that shows empathy, respect, and consideration for others. This approach may be augmented by schoolwide efforts to teach communication and conflict resolution skills, as well as nonviolent attitudes and values (Sprague et al., 2001).

Students involved in bullying need assessment to identify potential problems with anger, socio-emotional adjustment, and peer relations. It may be useful to conduct a functional behavior analysis to identify factors that encourage, model, or reinforce the student's behavior, and then to develop an appropriate intervention plan (Skiba, Waldron, Bahamonde, & Michalek, 1998). Students must learn positive alternatives to aggression that replace patterns of bullying and related maladaptive behaviors (Clarke & Kiselica, 1997; Hoover & Hazier, 1991).

Some school staff members may have the mistaken idea that bullying is normal, unavoidable, and relatively harmless. School counselors can play an important role in helping school staff to develop a greater awareness of bullying and a willingness to respond to it (Atlas & Pepler, 1998). As Hernandez and Seem (2004) emphasized, "Due to their knowledge, skills, and education, school counselors are uniquely positioned to institute the development of safe climates in schools and can serve as advocates for school change" (p. 257). School counselors can oversee and coordinate a school-wide effort to implement surveys that measure bullying and its effects on school climate. Results of a school-wide assessment can help develop policies and programs to deal effectively and quickly with bullying and aggression.


This study compared peer nomination and self-report approaches to the identification of middle school bullies. The peer nomination method identified a much larger group of students reported to engage in bullying and found that these students committed more disciplinary infractions than students identified as bullies by self-report. There were no differences between bullies and non-bullies in self-concept, but bullies were more likely to endorse attitudes justifying the use of aggression and minimizing its effect on victims. These findings point to some practical approaches that school counselors can take to identify and intervene with middle school students who engage in bullying behavior.


(1) A previous article (Cornell & Brockenbrough, 2004) concerned with survey methodology examined the correspondence among self-report, peer nomination, and teacher identification of both bullies and victims of bullying using a sample that overlapped with the present study sample. The present article reports new information on the aggressive attitudes, self-concept, and discipline histories of bullies that is not presented in the other article.


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Table 1. Planned Comparisons Between Bullies and Non-Bullies

 Self-Report Peer-Nominated
 Bullies (1) Bullies (2) Non-Bullies (3)
Measure Mean (SD) Mean (SD) Mean (SD)

Physical bullying 4.67 (2.44) 2.89 (l.19) 2.42 (0.78)
Verbal bullying 4.56 (l.13) 2.96 (l.10) 2.62 (0.86)
Social bullying 3.89 (l.45) 2.54 (0.79) 2.35 (0.64)
General self- 28.44 (6.77) 33.13 (4.36) 33.00 (4.50)
Attitudes toward 17.44 (2.30) 11.73 (3.89) 10.24 (4.04)
Discipline 1.67 (2.50) 4.07 (5.82) 1.08 (2.53)
Detentions 1.11 (l.69) 2.66 (3.70) 0.78 (2.01)
Suspensions 0.56 (l.33) 1.54 (2.70) 0.27 (0.82)

 (1) + (2) vs. (3)

Measure F value [[eta].sup.2]

Physical bullying 29.44 ** .07
Verbal bullying 18.11 ** .05
Social bullying 14.14 ** .04
General self- 0.50 .00
Attitudes toward 17.36 ** .04
Discipline 40.44 ** .10
Detentions 31.34 ** .08
Suspensions 43.70 ** .10

 (1) vs. (2)

Measure F value [[eta].sup.2]

Physical bullying 13.24 ** .15
Verbal bullying 16.50 ** .18
Social bullying 18.46 ** .19
General self- 8.04 * .10
Attitudes toward 18.47 ** .19
Discipline 22.40 ** .11
Detentions 17.41 ** .08
Suspensions 24.06 ** 11

* p < .01.

** p < .001.

The authors thank Karen Brockenbrough for her work on the middle school survey project. They also thank the staff and students of the participating middle school.

Joanna C. M. Cole, MS, is a Ph.D. student in clinical psychology, Curry School of Education, University of Virginia, Charlottesville. E-mail:

Dewey G. Cornell and Peter Sheras are professors at the University of Virginia.
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Date:Apr 1, 2006
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