Bullying is a type of violence defined as "an ongoing and deliberate misuse of power in relationships through repeated verbal, physical and/or social behavior that intends to cause physical, social and/or psychological harm" (NCAB definition). Around 1 in 5 students aged 12-18 report being bullied in school (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2017). It has been shown that being bullied in middle school is significantly related to experiencing mental health issues such as depression, anxiety and PTSD later in life (Manrique et al., 2019).
Mindfulness is being studied for its positive effects both on personal and interpersonal dimensions. Mindfulness is "a non-judgmental attitude that involves consciously remaining focused on the current internal or external experience", which comprises intent, attention, and attitude of non-judgment. Recent studies have delved into the effects of mindfulness on bullying. As Liu, Xiao and Tang state in their paper, mindfulness "can curb hostility and bad emotions" in bullies and "increase the awareness of self-protection and rights of safeguarding" in victims, resulting in the reduction of bullying.
These researchers studied the effects of a school-based mindfulness intervention (Mindfulness in School Project, or MiSP) in bullying behaviors in four Senior 2 classes in China. They hypothesized that the mindfulness program would improve the level of mindfulness and self-control in the participants, which would simultaneously reduce bullying behaviors, and that self-control would mediate the inverse relationship between mindfulness and bullying. They were correct.
This is how the experiment was conducted: after the participants provided informed consent, two classes in Senior 2 were selected to be the experimental group, that is, the group that would undergo the mindfulness intervention; and two classes were selected to be the control group, that is, to continue their regular routine without undergoing the mindfulness intervention. Some tests were taken to participants from all four classes before the mindfulness program was conducted to the experimental group, in order to make analyses and comparisons later. These tests were the Chinese Version of the Olweus Bully/Victim Questionnaire, to study the frequency of bullying and attitudes towards it; The Self-Control Scale, to examine the participant's level of self-control; and the Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire, to evaluate the participant's mindfulness trait (observation of inner experience, describing inner experience with words, acting with awareness, non-judging of inner experience, and nonreactivity to inner experience).
This baseline evaluation already showed that bullying behaviors were negatively related to self-control and mindfulness, and that mindfulness and self-control were positively related. In this baseline evaluation (before the intervention), there were no significant differences between the experimental and control groups. Now it was time to begin the mindfulness intervention in the experimental group.
The Mindfulness in School Project (MiSP) was carried out in 10 weeks. Each week, the course was taught once a week for 45 minutes by a trained instructor. The mindfulness courses were: An Introduction to Mindfulness (week 1), Playing Attention (week 2), Taming the Animal Mind (week 3), Recognizing Worry (week 4), Being Here Now (week 5), Moving Mindfully (week 6), Stepping Back (week 7), Be-Friending the Difficult (week 8), Taking in the Good (week 9), and Pulling It All Together (week 10). Aside from the weekly course, participants meditated everyday for 10-15 minutes with the help of the instructor, and were encouraged to practice independently after school as well.
After the 10 weeks of the intervention concluded, the tests were taken again to all participants (from both the control and experimental groups). This time, participants who underwent the mindfulness intervention showed significant increases in their mindfulness and self-control traits, as well as a significant reduction in their bullying behavior. Before undergoing the mindfulness intervention, the experimental group scored 1.43 ± 0.51 points for "bullying", and after the intervention it scored 1.11 ± 0.24, accounting for a 22% decrease on average. On the other hand, the control group scored 1.47 ± 0.41 points for "bullying" and, without undergoing the intervention, its "bullying" score slightly increased to 1.48 ± 0.61. For the experimental group, its self-control score increased by .50 points after the intervention, whereas the control group's score decreased by .04 points. Similarly, the experimental group's mindfulness trait increased by .60 points after the intervention, and the control group's mindfulness trait increased by .02 points.
The results showed once again that the factors of bullying behavior were negatively correlated with the factors of mindfulness and self-control. These results were consistent with previous experiments that studied mindfulness interventions in bullying.
The authors reflect about the results:
"The students learnt to react autonomously rather than automatically. When they perceived the emotion of the moment, instead of responding automatically and immediately, they would tend to apply mindfulness skills, pause for a moment in consciousness, anchor their attention to the lower body with breath, confront the present moment with acceptance and openness, keep a clear awareness of the present ideas and images, and control themselves to avoid impulse and restore a calm state (...) For those students engaged in bullying and who tended to attack people who were different from them, the non-judgmental attitude of mindfulness was needed to get along with classmates" (Liu et al., 2021).
Though far from completely solving the extensive problem of bullying, science-based interventions with promising results such as this one show the way we should go, both in science research, school programs, and parenting. Results like these suggest people have the ability to improve when given the correct tools. Knowing that simple, free interventions, concepts and activities (such as mindfulness and meditating) can help decrease interpersonal violence and suffering, can make a big difference. If schools and families were aware of the power of such interventions- as well as the severity and far-reaching negative effects of bullying- they would hopefully take action in this direction, resulting in priceless progress. Understanding that the reduction of bullying is a mere side effect of nourishing inner peace, maturity and well-being also brings light into the integral value of these interventions.
Liu, X., Xiao, R. & Tang, W. (2021). The Impact of School-Based Mindfulness Intervention on Bullying Behaviors Among Teenagers: Mediating Effect of Self-Control. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 0 (0), 1-23.
Manrique, M., Allwood, M. A., Pugach, C. P., Amoh, N. & Cerbone, A. (2019). Time and Support Do Not Heal All Wounds: Mental Health Correlates of Past Bullying Among College Students. Journal of American College Health, 68 (3), 227-235
Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, School Crime Supplement (SCS) to the National Crime Victimization Survey, 2017.
Article written by Maggie Stilman.
The Considerable Journal.
The Considerable Journal's mission is to bring relevant scientific findings closer to people who seek evidence-based paths to integral well-being, by providing briefed, straightforward expositions of scientific research regarding mental and physical health, relationships, habits, and more.