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Bullying and Theory of Mind: A Review

[ Vol. 13 , Issue. 2 ]


Peter K. Smith*   Pages 90 - 95 ( 6 )


Although aggressive behaviours, and especially bullying, are regarded as socially undesirable, there is controversy as to whether they are also evidence of deficits on measures of social skills or social competence. Many measures of emotional intelligence and social competence include aspects of social desirability. However, theory of mind skills are neutral as regards social desirability and can be used for prosocial or antisocial ends. It has been proposed that children who bully others at school, especially ringleader bullies, may actually have and use good theory of mind skills. Nine studies were found that directly examined theory of mind in relation to roles involved in bullying in childhood. Of these, five found some positive association of theory of mind with bullying behaviors. In addition, some associations were found with defending behaviors, and negative associations with being a victim of bullying. These associations have been found to interact, in one or more studies, with type of bully, type of aggression, age, gender, and individual characteristics such as levels of narcissism and levels of victimization experience. Although the research base is limited, the evidence does support the view that theory of mind skills can be used for both prosocial (e.g. defending) and antisocial (e.g. bullying) ends, whereas it is the victims of bullying who may be more likely to be deficient in such skills.


Theory of mind, bully victim, defender, emotional intelligence, children, bullying.


Goldsmiths, University of London, U.K. Emeritus Professor Peter K Smith, Department of Psychology, Goldsmiths College, Lewisham Way, New Cross, London SE14 6NW

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