9. Emotional intelligence, teen bullies & victimisation

Summarised by Rachel Green, Director, The Emotional Intelligence Institute, accredited user of the Mayer-Salovey-Caruso-Emotional-Intelligence Test (MSCEIT) and author of "How to develop emotional resilience and manage your emotions."

What is the relationship between adolescent emotional intelligence, bullying behaviours and peer victimisation? A pioneering study headed by Justine Lomas from the Brain Sciences Institute at Swinburne University has set itself to find out.

The key components and findings of the study were published in the Journal of Adolescence in 2012. A summary is presented here and a copy of the paper is at the bottom of this article. The study found that both bullying and victimisation were related to emotional intelligence.

Subjects in emotional intelligence bullying study

  • 68 adolescents: 31 males, 37 females.
  • From a secondary college of approximately 1400 students. 
  • Southeast Melbourne.
  • Ages ranged from 12-16 years, M=13.85.

Design of emotional intelligence bullying study

Participants completed self-report questionnaires that assessed their emotional intelligence, how frequently they engaged in bullying behaviours and how often they were the target of peer victimisation. 

  1. Specifically, each subject completed the Adolescent Swinburne University Emotional Intelligence Test. This is a self-report questionnaire of 57 items with four sub-scales: Emotional Recognition and Expression (10 items), Understanding Emotions (19 items), Emotions Direct Cognition (10 items) and Emotional Management and Control (18 items).
  2. Peer relations were measured using the Peer Relations Questionnaire (PRQ) (Rigby & Slee, 1993). It measures tendencies to bully others and the incidence of being subject to peer victimisation. The questionnaire consists of 11 items, with 2 subscales: Bully (6 items, ‘I like to make others scared of me’), Victim (5 items, ‘I get picked on by others’). 

Results on emotional intelligence & bullying

  1. Results of the study indicated that the EI dimensions of "Emotions Direct Cognition" and "Emotional Management and Control", significantly predicted the propensity of adolescents to be subjected to peer victimisation.  
  2. The propensity to be victimised decreases with higher "Emotions Direct Cognition" and "Emotional Management and Control". These dimensions were the most important EI predictors of peer victimisation, and imply that the propensity to be victimised by others is, in part, related to EI competencies. 
  3. The EI dimension of "Understanding the Emotions of Others" was found to be negatively related with bullying behaviours.  
  4. Participants with lower levels of "Understanding the Emotions of Others" (UEO) reported more frequent bullying behaviours than those with higher levels of UEO.


Lomas, Stough, Hansen and Downey concluded that:

Anti-bullying programs in schools could be improved by addressing deficits in emotional intelligence in adolescents who bully others, as well as those who are at a greater risk of being subjected to peer victimisation. 

Adolescents with a lesser understanding of the emotions of others may find it difficult to understand the consequences of their actions and not comprehend the adverse impact their bullying behaviour has upon others.  

Adolescents with better developed emotional intelligence skills are less likely to become targets of bullying behaviours.

Measures of emotional intelligence may be utilised to identify students who show less developed emotional intelligence competencies, which may allow for more targeted, accurate or timely intervention to protect students from the potential harmful consequences that are associated with exposure to bullying. 

If you would like to know more about Professor Con Stough's work and research on emotional intelligence in school-age children and teenagers, please visit his new website:

My personal comments on bullying & EI study

  • So much bullying occurs in schools (and in the adult workplace) that the more we can understand and address the causes the better. The results of bullying can stay with a person for life.
  • This was only a pilot study with a small sample size from only one school. Larger samples across a range of schools are warranted.
  • Would emotional intelligence development in schools help reduce the incidence of bullying? Do we know whether bullies can learn the skills they need to stop bullying? This has yet to be proven.
  • The concept that the victims may also be low on some facets of emotional intelligence fascinates me, but on reflection appears plausible from my experience with adult victims of bullying in the workplace.

Further details of this emotional intelligence study

"Brief report: Emotional intelligence, victimisation and bullying in adolescents", by Justine Lomas, Con Stough, Karen Hansen & Luke A. Downey. Journal of Adolescence, Vol. 35, no. 1 (Feb 2012), pp. 207-211

Brain Sciences Institute, Swinburne University, PO Box 218 Hawthorn, Melbourne, Victoria 3122, Australia. 

For the full article click here.

Develop your school's emotional intelligence

There is so much that your leadership team can do to develop their emotional intelligence and the emotional intelligence of their school. We have a number of options to help:

  1. There is a series of emotional intelligence workshops, including: "Mastering emotional intelligence". 
  2. There is an emotional intelligence 2 DVD program "How to develop emotional resilience and manage your emotions".
  3. We provide a face-to-face 5 star emotional intelligence coaching package which can be conducted online or in our Kelmscott office.
  4. Emotional intelligence asessments can be conducted using the MSCEIT.
  5. We can also bring a whole emotional intelligence programme to your entire school for your students and teachers, under the guidance of Professor Con Stough.

For more details, or to make a booking, e-mail us now or pick up the phone and call us.

Develop the emotional intelligence of your teachers now and be an emotionally intelligent school.