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MoS (Mobbning och Skola) – Bullying and School

Research project
Active research
Project period
2000 - ongoing
Project owner
Department of Psychology

Financier
Forte (several grants) and The Swedish Crime Victim Authority (several grants)

Short description

The focus of the research project MoS is bullying and body image. Bullying is an act of harassment, something that most young people unfortunately experience in their school years, either as victims, perpetrators or witnesses. Body image is the experiences, feelings, attitudes and behaviours that people have in relation to their body. MoS started in 2000 with 960 pupils who were in fourth grade. Since then they have participated at age13, 16, 18, 21, 24 and 27. There has also been three interview follow-ups with smaller groups of participants. Those carried out when the participants were 14 and 25 years old, respectively, focused on body image and the one when they were 29 years old focused on long-term consequences of bullying. Following people’s trajectories on salient developmental issues over several years makes this project unique.

The results from the MoS project have been published in several scientific articles and dissertations. The main findings from the project are presented in short below:

Bullying

When it comes to bullying, already at the age of 10, twelve percent of the participants reported being bullied. At 13 years old, there were unfortunately even more, sixteen percent, and at 16 years this number dropped to three percent who said they were being bullied. Approximately as many boys as girls were bullied.

At both 13 and 16 years of age, participants were asked about their thoughts on what should be done to end bullying in school. The most common suggestion was that teachers should intervene more in bullying situations and have conversations with those involved. Many of the participants wrote that they unfortunately did not get the help from teachers that they had wanted. This knowledge is important in understanding that teachers need better knowledge of how to intervene to help those who are bullied and suffering.

At age of 18, we asked the participants who had been bullied during their school years what had made the bullying stop (if it had stopped). The most common answer was that school personnel had helped to stop the bullying, even though this answer was only given by a quarter of those who had been bullied. An almost as common answer was that the bullying had ceased in connection with a stage change (e.g. between primary and middle school, or middle and high school) when the class structure had changed. Very few of those who were bullied wrote that their classmates had helped to stop the bullying.

Based on the responses from the participants, we can understand that there is still a lot to do to counteract bullying in schools. Teachers should for instance receive increased education on how to deal with bullying situations. In addition, work should be done to actively change group structures in the classes to prevent students from being excluded. The results from the latest survey (from, 2018) will also contribute to important knowledge about the long-term consequences of bullying.

Thoughts about body and appearance

As for the participants' thoughts about their own body and appearance, already at the age of 10 unfortunately about a third of the participants in the study were dissatisfied with the shape of their body. Primarily, many felt that they were too fat. But only a third of those who thought they were too fat were actually overweight. We also saw at the age 10 that the girls were already then more dissatisfied with their bodies and their appearance than the boys, a pattern that has followed throughout the project.

At the follow-up at 13 years, the participants (both girls and boys) had become more negative about their bodies and appearances than at 10 years. At 16, 18, 21 and 24 years of age, this view of the body had remained relatively constant. Based on the results in MoS, it seems that the individuals who have adopted the appearance-ideals in society are most dissatisfied with their body. People who have been bullied are also more dissatisfied with their bodies than individuals who have not been bullied. One of the studies even showed that exposure to bullying at the age of 10 predicts more negative body image at the age of 18, which in turn predicts more problems with eating disorder at the age 24.

We have also studied what distinguishes those who are positive about their body and appearance. An important result is that these people seem to care more about what the body can actually do (for example, run, dance, play football) than what it looks like. Most participants with a positive body image were physically active in their daily lives because they thought it was fun and not mainly for appearance reasons.

A few years ago, we made a cross-cultural comparison between how Swedish men (in MoS) think about body and appearance in comparison with men in the US, Australia, and the UK. We found that Swedish men were less likely to want to be muscular than men in the other three countries. Swedish men, on the other hand, were just as likely as men in the other countries to strive for a physically fit body.

Since we followed the participants for a long time, we have had the opportunity to study how body perception and bullying develops over time, which is unique for MoS! The results from the project are very helpful when it comes to motivating and designing efforts to help young people today.

 

Publications

Researchers

Project director
Ann Frisén

Researchers
Sofia Berne

Johan Lidberg

Kristina Holmqvist Gattario

Johanna Kling

More Information

The project is carried out in the research group The Gothenburg group for Research In Developmental psychology (GRID) at the Department of Psychology.