A relational framework for understanding bullying: Developmental antecedents and outcomes

Philip C. Rodkin, Dorothy L. Espelage, Laura Hanish

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

165 Scopus citations


This article reviews current research on the relational processes involved in peer bullying, considering developmental antecedents and long-term consequences. The following themes are highlighted: (a) aggression can be both adaptive and maladaptive, and this distinction has implications for bullies' functioning within peer social ecologies; (b) developmental antecedents and long-term consequences of bullying have not been well-distinguished from the extant research on aggressive behavior; (c) bullying is aggression that operates within relationships of power and abuse. Power asymmetry and repetition elements of traditional bullying definitions have been hard to operationalize, but without these specifications and more dyadic measurement approaches there may be little rationale for a distinct literature on bullying-separate from aggression. Applications of a relational approach to bullying are provided using gender as an example. Implications for future research are drawn from the study of relationships and interpersonal theories of developmental psychopathology.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)311-321
Number of pages11
JournalAmerican Psychologist
Issue number4
StatePublished - May 1 2015


  • Aggression
  • Bully
  • Bully prevention

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology


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