Bullying, Empathy, and Multiple Intelligences

The prevalence of bullying – which affects roughly one in five students – underscores the importance of studying its underlying factors. Research has found that children who bully often lack empathy for their peers and endorse egocentric thinking to a higher degree than do victims and bystanders of bullying. 

Participation in bullying may also reflect the types of intelligence that children possess. Of the seven commonly accepted types, intrapersonal intelligence and interpersonal intelligence have received attention for their potential connection to bullying. Intrapersonal intelligence describes the ability to understand the self, including one's inner feelings, strengths and weaknesses. Conversely, individuals with interpersonal intelligence excel in relating to others, a result of their ability to understand their peers' moods, motivations and intention. 

It has been theorized that low empathy may be related to a discrepancy in these two intelligences – specifically, the disparity between low interpersonal and high intrapersonal ability. However, researchers have yet to investigate the relationship among multiple intelligences, empathy and bullying. 

This study will address the issue by asking college students to complete surveys that gauge their empathy and multiple intelligences, while also soliciting retrospective accounts of bullying experiences in elementary and high school. The researchers will then examine whether lower levels of reported empathy relate to any past involvement in bullying. The study will also investigate whether discrepancies in intelligences correlate with reported levels of empathy and prior bullying incidents. 

The study may also analyze which types of intelligence participants endorse, thereby gleaning insights into how they prefer to process information. In doing so, the study could help reveal how best to help children develop prosocial skills and greater empathy. 

Principal Investigators: Heather Schwartz (doctoral student, school psychology); Dr. Susan Swearer (professor, school psychology); Tim Golden (human resources development, MICubed)