Press Release

A major new research study will examine the links between how children use humour and the problem of bullying in schools. The 13-month study, funded by The Economic and Social Research Council, will be led by Dr Claire Fox (Keele University) in collaboration with Dr Simon Hunter at the University of Strathclyde.

The main aim of the research is to assess the relationships between four humour styles and involvement in school bullying using a short-term longitudinal design. Two humour styles are adaptive (affiliative and self-enhancing) and two are maladaptive (aggressive and self-defeating). Approximately 1,000 children aged 11-13 years (years seven and eight) across schools in Staffordshire and Derbyshire will complete questionnaires on a whole class basis at the beginning and end of the school year. The questionnaires will assess different types of bullying and peer victimisation, peer acceptance, number of friends, humour styles, depression, loneliness, and self-esteem.

Bullying remains a significant problem in schools. As noted in government guidance: “Evidence from school inspections, pupil surveys, independent research and parent and child help-lines suggests that bullying is a significant and serious problem” (‘Safe to Learn’, DCSF, 2007). A recent study found that 19% of secondary school children reported being bullied sometimes or more often in the current school term. The Safe to Learn guidance (DCSF, 2007) recommends that schools safeguard the pupils who have experienced bullying and trigger sources of support for those pupils. Schools also have a responsibility to tackle bullies’ behaviour.

Given the inherently social nature of humour there is a compelling case for studying its role within the bullying context. Humour may be used by children to cope with problematic peer relationships. In particular, use of humour may characterise children in the different bullying roles (e.g. victim, bully and defender) and perhaps explain why certain children are more likely to be bullied than others. Additionally, children who are bullied may be protected from some of the harmful effects of victimisation (e.g. depression, loneliness, self-esteem) by using adaptive forms of humour. Clarification of such processes will have important implications for school-based anti-bullying interventions.

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