Tuesday (30th April, 2013) was officially the last day of this grant (though we’ll continue to update this blog, and to tweet on @Humour_Bullying). We (Claire, Simon, Siân) are all very proud of the research and were really happy that the dissemination event went so well. Those who attended felt that the research findings resonated with their experiences, and we were able to get some great ideas for interventions based on the results and for future research. Many thanks to all who came along.
Yesterday saw the project hit the headlines. In addition to live radio interviews, The Times carried a piece about the research, as did the BBC and ScienceDaily.com. The BBC had an open comment thread and, when the comments section closed, there were 425 comments. We find this very exciting – it is always deflating to conduct research which you believe has the potential to make an impact, only to find that no one outside of your immediate circle is interested. It is therefore great to see so many people giving their opinions and leaving their thoughts about the research. However, it is also frustrating to see people criticizing or dismissing the study without really understanding what we did. We therefore wanted to add some thoughts here which extend what was reported in the press. That’s not to say the press reports were inaccurate or a problem, but just that they naturally do not have the space to discuss the research in all the detail that we’d like to see. So, here are a few points we would like to make:
1. Many of those commenting on the BBC discussion thread suggested that rather than self-defeating humour leading to victimisation it was the other way around. This is in fact supported by our research. The news articles reported that self-defeating humour led to victimisation – but they did not report our finding that victimisation also led to self-defeating humour. We were able to examine this by using a research design where we looked at both humour and victimisation early in the school year and then again later in the year. In this way, we could begin to untangle which of these influenced the other – and, in fact, both influenced each other so that there appears to be a vicious cycle operating.
2. We are not ‘victim blaming’. Using bullying behaviour is always wrong and no one should be subjected to the aggressive, domineering behaviours of others. One of the goals of our study has been to identify whether, and in what ways, peer-victimisation might be associated with young people’s humour styles and with their social and psychological wellbeing. By doing this we hope to be able to identify both risk and resilience factors. Future efforts to reduce bullying can then use this knowledge. If we know what sorts of factors put children at risk of being bullied, then this can inform interventions to enhance children’s resilience.
3. We are not suggesting that young people’s humour use is the only reason for bullying occurring. Bullying is a complex issue, and young people’s use of humour can only ever be a part of the story. To understand it involves understanding an ongoing interaction between an aggressor (or aggressors), a victim (or victims), and their wider social group. In addition, it involves attending to the respective histories of all those involved (at school and at home, and with both peers and caregivers), as well as the immediate social, economic, and institutional context. However, it is simply not practical to collect information on all of these variables! As it was, we required young people to take part in two sessions of data collection at both the start and the end of the academic year. However, our results add to the body of knowledge which is accumulating on this topic and should be considered in that context.