Children's explanations of aggressive incidents at school within an attributional framework

Joscelyne, Trish (1999). Children's explanations of aggressive incidents at school within an attributional framework. PhD thesis The Open University.



Background and aims

This study explores the types of attributions children make about school bullying situations and how these attributions may be related to subsequent behaviour and feelings.

The relevant research background is explored - both from a bullying perspective and an attribution perspective. Psychological models that are thought relevant are discussed - particularly the learned helplessness model and Beck's cognitive-behavioural model.

The aims of the study were: to explore the kinds of attributions made about bullying by a non-clinical population; to explore the different types of attributions made by children within a framework of later attribution theories; to explore the relationship between type of attribution and type of solution offered; and to explore the themes linking different types of attributions in children's stories.

Design, measures and participants

The study employed a mainly qualitative design but with some quantitative analysis using content analysis. Themes were explored using Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis.

Seventeen 9 and 10 year olds were interviewed at school using a semistructured questionnaire which asked questions about stories which children told about imagined aggressive situations.


The results of the content analysis suggested that children made a range of attributions which could be coded into characterological and behavioural attributions. There was some suggestion from correlational data that these were related to the type of solution offered by the participants.

Qualitative analysis explored some of the connections between the types of attributions and concluded by describing a typical framework for a 'story' about the bullying incidents.


Several implications are explored for both bullying and attribution research. Suggestions are given for school interventions - particularly the importance of working with the powerlessness of victims. For clinical interventions, some ideas are explored for working with children who have been bullied or bully - although future research would benefit from looking at attributions within a clinical population.

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