Background » The scientific base of the OBPP
In the 1960's and 1970's there was a fierce debate in the world of personality psychology concerning the springs of behavior: Is what we do more determined by who we are or by the lives we have lived? American professor of psychology, Walter Mischel, published a book in 1968 ("Personality and Assessment") arguing that many personality traits, like aggression, had little stability, meaning they were situation dependent and not person-dependent. Mischel had many followersm, and this paved way for a strong tradition in psychology and pedagogy lasting up untill our time.
Dan Olweus first became widely known when he entered this "nature-nurture" or person-situation debate with his article "Stability of aggression patterns" in Psychological Bulletin in 1979. Olweus had scrutinized a large number of studies about aggression and showed that on the contrary, aggression is found to be a very stable personality trait, just about as stable as intelligence, which in is generally seen as rather stable. This means that some individuals are more aggressive.than others, and that this is likely to show up across different situations. His article became quite famous, and his findings and thorough scientific approach has formed an alternative tradition to the situation perspective regarding the study of aggression.
One may argue that the situation perspective is more pleasant or acceptable to most pedagogs, psychologists and others who are involved with children and problem behavior, because it would imply that everyone can be taught to be nice and kind. The situation perspective means that aggressive people behave as they do because they may have been ill-treated earlier in life, or just plainly have not understood the rules of social life. This is in line with the eighteen century philosopher John Locke who postulated that human behavior is merely a product of upbringing and experience, and that we all are born as a "blank slate" (unwritten page). Modern approaches to problem behavior where the only ingredience is having children who behave in bad ways learn and experiene "how nice it is to be nice" follows the same path.
The personality pespective is not so pleasant, because it implies that certain individuals are more aggressive by composition, and that they will have to struggle with their aggressive tendencies throughout life.
It it important to note that the Olweus model for stopping bullying is based both on the personality perspective and the situation perspective. The model helps the school staff to see their students as individuals with a varying degree of aggressive tendencies, and thus to be more observant and effective in working with bullying among students. It also assists the school in establishing a social environment (situations) where aggressive behavior is less encouraged and prosocial relations are strengthened.
in Sweden where Dan Olweus was born and had his first part of his career, the debate was stronger than in most European countries. Swedish physician Heineman published a book where he described bullying as a group phenomenon, in a strict situationalist perspective. He callet bullying "group violence against a person who did not fit in". His position was that one individual who was a deviant in one or another way, created tensions in the social group, which had to be released in the form of an attack from the group. Heineman described bullying as coming from a large, anonymous social group, where no single individual played a more central role than anyone else. Olweus was sceptical to both of these assumptions: That bullying should be due to deviating traits in the exposed person, and that the large, rather uniform group shold be seen as the perpetrator. Olweus research has also indicated that these positions were wrong. He saw in his own studies and reviews of other research that one, or a few other students usually were the perpetrators. He also found that the exposed students were not deviant in any particular way, but rather ordinary students.
In this sense, the Olweus model takes individual characteristics on the part of the perpetrator as a causal factor in bullying. But this is only a part of the picture. Two other important sources also fuel this phenomenon.
The group of students where bullying happens can contribute greatly positively and negatively. Strong mechanisms are at work when students get together, formally and informally. Social psychologists like Albert Bandura have pointed at some of these mechanisms. Social contageon, inhibitions regarding antisocial behavior, altering of the perception of an abused fellow student as well as model learning, are well documented phenomena in social psychology. Philip Zimbardo has in recent works shown how students with no previous aggressive history can be lead to participate in massive aggression towards others, when the group pressure is great enough. Recent research by (...) have shown how students with aggressive tendencies tend to find one another quickly in a group of peers, and to strengthen their aggressive behaviors towards others.
The Olweus program contains many activities aimed at the social group, the class, or the group of peers in the school. The efforts are aimed strengthening prosocial and supportive attitudes amon the students. The value based work does not assume that these attitudes will win without active involvement of tyhe adults in the school, therefore class meetings and other student activities are to be teacher-lead in the school according to the Olweus program.
in the early years of the Olweus-program, the program materials and instructions were distributed to the participating schools without a structured implementation. The results varied. Some schools managed to use the program in a good way, involving the entire staff and using the different components throughout the school, which gave results, But in many schools this was not the case. Only the most interested or conscientious of the staff read the material, and no consensus in the staff was developed as to what bullying is or how it should be handled.
Knowledge from the field of Organizational psychology have told us that in order to obtaing profound changes in the behaviour of an organization, a systematic work has to be carried out. Lead by, and strongly supported by the management, the whole organization has to change. Staff training, establishing of new routines, embedding the work in the everyday life of the organization, this is very similar to what is known as Organization Development.
The third source of causal factors to aggression in the school is therefore the organization itself.