Bullying behaviour, empathy and imitation: An attempted synthesis

Kerstin Dautenhahn, Sarah N. Woods, Christina Kaouri

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

    5 Citations (Scopus)


    This chapter proposes a possible connection between bullying behaviour, empathy and imitation. The primary aim of our work is to provide a clearer understanding of bullying behaviour, by focusing on cognitive and emotional states that might cause bullies to show anti-social behaviour. We begin by providing a review of relevant research about bullying behaviour including definitions of bullying behaviour, the behavioural characteristics of bullies and victims, precursors of bullying behaviour and several ideas about how bullies become bullies. This is followed by a discussion of empathy and imitation where two contrasting case studies of autism and psychopathy are given to illustrate differences in imitation and empathic skills and deficits. Finally, we try to bring together these different lines of research and present the hypothesis that bullies possess well-developed automatic as well as cognitive empathy, and that bullying behaviour is caused by an overemphasis of goal-directed processes of controlled empathy that work towards non-empathy. The importance of gaining a deeper understanding of empathic and imitation skills/deficits for different bullying roles is highlighted and discussed in relation to implications for anti-bullying intervention initiatives, where empathy and imitative interactive behaviour can be integrated. The pervasive nature and deleterious consequences of bullying and victimization behaviour has generated a great deal of research interest over the past decade. Bullying behaviour is distinguishable from aggressive behaviour per se as it has to be a repeated action that occurs regularly over time (Olweus, 1999), and it usually involves an imbalance in strength, either real or perceived (Whitney and Smith, 1993).
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationImitation and Social Learning in Robots, Humans and Animals
    Subtitle of host publicationBehavioural, Social and Communicative Dimensions
    PublisherCambridge University Press
    Number of pages18
    ISBN (Electronic)9780511489808
    ISBN (Print)9780521845113
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2007


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