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British Journal of Developmental Psychology (2003), 21, 367–385

2003 The British Psychological Society

Prosocial children, bullies and victims: An

investigation of their sociometric status, empathy
and social problem-solving strategies

David Warden* and Suzanne Mackinnon

Department of Psychology, University of Strathclyde, UK

This study investigates links between children’s social behaviour and their sociometric
status, empathy and social problem-solving strategies. Sociometric ratings were
obtained from a sample of 131 9–10-year-old children drawn from two matched
schools. Each child also completed a newly developed and empirically derived Social
Behaviour Questionnaire. This questionnaire led to the identification of 21 prosocial
children, 23 bullies and 14 victims of bullying. Children in these subgroups were then
assessed on measures of empathy and social problem-solving. Prosocial children were
significantly more popular than the other role groups, and bully–victims were most
frequently rejected by their peers. Prosocial children also showed greater empathic
awareness than either bullies or victims, but gender was the significant source of
variance. Prosocial children and victims responded more constructively than did bullies
to socially awkward situations, and bullies were less aware than prosocial children of
the possible negative consequences of their solution strategies.

In recent decades, studies of children’s social behaviour have shown a marked bias
towards the antisocial. Two central foci of these studies have been (i) the development
and implementation of measures to identify children who are antisocial or aggressive
(e.g. Crick & Grotpeter, 1995; Masten, Morison, & Pellegrini, 1985; Pekarik, Prinz,
Liebert, Weintraub, & Neale, 1976), or who are bullies or the victims of bullying (e.g.
Olweus, 1991; Salmivalli, Lagerspetz, Björkqvist, Österman, & Kaukiainen, 1996;
Whitney & Smith, 1993); and (ii) studies of the sociocognitive characteristics of
antisocial children and bullies (e.g. Crick & Dodge, 1994; Salmivalli, Kaukiainen,
Kaistaniemi, & Lagerspetz, 1999; Sutton, Reeves, & Keogh, 2000; Sutton, Smith, &
Swettenham, 1999). Both of these research topics have equal relevance in the prosocial
domain, and the aim of the present paper is to extend them in that direction. We begin,

* Requests for reprints should be addressed to David Warden, Department of Psychology, University of Strathclyde, 40
George Street, Glasgow G1 1QE UK (e-mail: d.warden@strath.ac.uk).
368 David Warden and Suzanne Mackinnon

however, with a discussion of certain difficulties with current assessment procedures

for identifying children on the basis of their social behaviour, and a review of the
relevant literature on the relationship among children’s social behaviour, social status
and sociocognitive competence.
A variety of measures has been developed to assess children’s social behaviour.
However, none of these extant measures offers a satisfactory means of simultaneously
assessing both prosocial and antisocial child behaviour, for several reasons.

(1) Their construction incorporates a bias towards identifying antisocial behaviours

and maladjustment (e.g. Pekarik et al., 1976).
(2) In consequence, they focus somewhat narrowly, if at all, on only certain elements
of prosocial behaviour, e.g. likeability, sociability-leadership (e.g. Masten et al.,
(3) They lack a normative framework, particularly for delineating child prosocial
behaviour (cf. Greener & Crick, 1999; Warden, Christie, Kerr, & Low, 1996), but
also for sampling antisocial behaviours.
(4) As aptly summarized by Younger, Schneider, Wadeson, Guirguis, and Bergeron
(2000), the items used in these measures tend to be insufficiently specific, focus on
unobservable inner states rather than observable behaviours, and do not target
characteristics that are salient and meaningful for children.

This latter problem, ambiguity of interpretation, can best be alleviated by a

behaviour-based approach, employing specific items which refer to concrete
behaviours relevant to children’s experience, rather than general questions about
generic behaviours (see, for example, Perry, Kusel, & Perry, 1988; Younger et al.,
2000). The present study therefore implements a new measure, which assesses both
prosocial and antisocial child behaviour, employs specific items exemplifying familiar
concrete behaviours, and derives from a clearly structured and empirically derived
definition of the components of both these forms of behaviour. This definition
emanates from children’s own perceptions because, as Greener and Crick (1999)
observe in relation to prosocial behaviour, the types of behaviours children experience
with their peers may be qualitatively different from those that adults have the
opportunity to witness.
A further general problem for behavioural assessment measures concerns the source
of the assessment data. Studies which aim to identify a particular subset of children
from within a population (e.g. bullies), in terms of their behaviour, can do so by
eliciting self-report data from the children themselves, or nominations/ratings data from
their peers or their carers (teachers or parents). Much has been written about the
accuracy and reliability of these different methods of identifying bullies or aggressive
children (e.g. Crick, Casas, & Mosher, 1997; Crick & Ladd, 1989; Perry et al., 1988;
Schuster, 1999). A broad consensus has emerged among such researchers, which
suggests that, compared with self-reports or teacher evaluations, the aggregated data
from the multiple informants participating in peer nominations will increase statistical
reliability and lessen the potential influence of individual bias.
The relationship between children’s social behaviour and their social status is
complex. Children’s peer group popularity has been connected to their obedience of
social rules, friendliness and prosocial interactions (e.g. Dodge, 1983; Salmivalli et al.,
1996). However, in the context of educational attempts to foster prosocial behaviours
in schools, there is some concern, as well as anecdotal evidence from children, that
Prosocial children, bullies and victims 369

prosocial behaviour is ‘not cool’, is not always valued and that children who behave in
‘prosocial’ ways (sharing, helping, etc.) may not be popular with their peers. Similarly,
although bullying, aggressive and destructive behaviours are often associated with peer
group rejection (e.g. Boulton & Smith, 1994; Coie & Dodge, 1983; Coie, Dodge, &
Kupersmidt, 1990; Parker & Asher, 1987), bullies, especially relational bullies, have
been accorded controversial and even popular status (Salmivalli et al., 1996). It seems
that such popularity may reflect their ability to manipulate not only their victims’
mental state, but also the approval of their supporters.
Children’s social behaviour is assumed to be influenced by their social competence,
and the sociocognitive characteristics of antisocial or aggressive children, bullies and
victims, have been widely examined. Potential deficiencies have been identified, for
example, in their perspective-taking (Sutton et al., 1999), social information-processing
(Crick & Dodge, 1999) and social problem-solving (Crick & Dodge, 1994). Crick,
Dodge, and colleagues (e.g. Crick & Dodge, 1994, 1996; Dodge & Coie, 1987; Dodge,
Lochman, Harnish, Bates, & Pettit, 1997) have shown: (i) that reactively aggressive
children have social information-processing deficiencies, in terms of cue encoding and
interpretation, and that they are more likely than either proactively aggressive or non-
aggressive children to demonstrate unwarranted, hostile attribution biases; and (ii) that
proactively aggressive children (bullies) view aggression more positively, perceiving
positive outcomes and neglecting negative outcomes, than do either reactively
aggressive or non-aggressive children. Sutton et al. (1999), however, have shown that
bullies, and in particular relational bullies, demonstrate superior ‘theory of mind’ skills,
when compared to their victims and their supporters. Such bullies, they argue, are well
able to understand the mental states (beliefs, desires and feelings) of others, and can use
this understanding to their advantage. What they may lack, however, and what may
differentiate them from prosocial children, is the ability to appreciate the emotional
consequences of their behaviours on others’ feelings, and to share in, and empathize
with, the feelings of others (Arsenio & Lemerise, 2001; Sutton et al., 1999).
Eisenberg and her colleagues (e.g. Eisenberg, Wentzel, & Harris, 1998) have argued
for the contribution of emotion processes (levels of emotionality and under- or over-
regulation of emotion processes) to social behaviour. Children who have good control
over their emotions are more likely to exhibit sympathetic and prosocial behaviours,
whereas aggressive children, including bullies, may exhibit poorer regulation of their
emotions. In partial confirmation, Nelson and Crick (1999) found that prosocial
adolescents were less distressed than their peers by ambiguous provocation.
Although empathic skills have been proposed as a major correlate and possible
determinant of prosocial behaviour (e.g. Eisenberg & Miller, 1987), the definition and
measurement of empathy is problematic. In research with children, verbal self-reports,
measures of facial display and of physiological change (e.g. skin conductance, heart
rate) have all been used, and each method has its benefits and disadvantages. Verbal
measures are simple to implement, and reflect the degree to which respondents are
aware of, or can predict their emotional arousal. Although these measures can be
influenced by social desirability, they provide a useful insight into respondents’ self-
perception. Facial display measures provide direct evidence, not only of the presence of
situationally experienced emotion, but also its nature, e.g. sadness, anger. However,
wide individual and, especially, gender variations in emotional expressiveness limit
their usefulness. Physiological responses perhaps provide the most accurate (or direct)
indication of emotional responding, but assessment procedures are cumbersome and
intrusive, raise ethical difficulties for general experimentation in schools, and, crucially,
370 David Warden and Suzanne Mackinnon

give no indication of the type of emotional response (sadness, anger, etc.). Bryant
(1982), using verbal self-reports, demonstrated a generally negative relationship
between aggressiveness and empathy, and her standardized questionnaire was
employed in this study.
The ability to interpret and respond appropriately to social situations that may be
ambiguous or socially awkward is a central component of social competence. Social
problem-solving skills have been linked to peer acceptance and popularity (Musun-
Miller, 1993; Rubin & Rose-Krasnor, 1992), and Crick and Dodge (1994) have proposed
that social problem-solving deficiencies may mediate maladjusted development.
Research in this domain typically examines how respondents interpret social situations
(making positive or negative attributions), what kind of solution strategies they propose
(e.g. aggressive, passive/avoidant or prosocial/constructive), and how they perceive the
outcome of their solution strategy. Richard and Dodge (1982) found that, when
presented with hypothetical problematic social situations, aggressive boys (aged 8–10
years) were deficient in generating effective solutions to achieve a desired social
outcome. In comparison with popular boys, aggressive boys proposed more ineffective
and more aggressive solution strategies. Similarly, Joffe, Dobson, Fine, Marriage, and
Haley (1990) found that conduct-disordered adolescents, compared with normal and
depressed respondents, generated fewer relevant means to achieve a social end,
anticipated fewer obstacles to achieving the desired outcome, and proposed fewer
directly assertive responses to problematic situations. Adopting a somewhat different
approach, Erdley and Asher (1996) found that 9–10-year-old children’s responses to
ambiguous provocation were significantly related to their social goals and perceived self
More recently, the social behaviour research focus has shifted somewhat, and the
importance of characterizing prosocial behaviour, prosocial development and social
competence has been highlighted (e.g. Eisenberg & Fabes, 1998; Greener & Crick,
1999; Halberstadt, Denham, & Dunsmore, 2001; Hay, 1994; Rose-Krasnor, 1997;
Warden & Christie, 1997). Furthermore, the need to make a specific study of the
sociocognitive characteristics of prosocial children has also been recognized (e.g.
Nelson & Crick, 1999). Motivations for this shift of perspective have included the need
to gain wider empirical support for theoretical explanations of children’s social
behaviour (Nelson & Crick, 1999), an awareness of a lack of consensus on the defining
attributes of social competence and prosocial behaviour (Rose-Krasnor, 1997), and the
need to develop educational interventions which counteract antisocial behaviours by
promoting prosocial behaviours (Warden & Christie, 1997).
In two studies that attempted to delineate children’s own perceptions of prosocial
and antisocial peer behaviour (Warden et al., 1996; Warden & Christie, 1997),
children’s own accounts of their experiences of prosocial and antisocial peer
behaviours were elicited. Children (N = 84, age range 9–13 years) were asked to
describe incidents when another child had: (i) been nice to them, or done something
that pleased them; and (ii) been nasty to them, or done something to upset them.
Subsequent content analysis of these examples (prosocial N = 200; antisocial N = 250)
produced four categories of prosocial behaviours (inclusion, helping, sharing and
caring), and a further four categories of antisocial behaviours (physical abuse, verbal
abuse, rejection and delinquency) which were common to the experiences of the
majority of respondents. The prosocial categories correspond closely to the categories
observed in preschool children’s behaviour by Eisenberg-Berg and Hand (1979), and
also those reviewed by Marantz (1988). The antisocial categories correspond to
Prosocial children, bullies and victims 371

behavioural categories identified in research on bullying (Whitney & Smith, 1993). The
new measure used here to identify prosocial children, bullies and victims is based upon
the specific examples of prosocial and antisocial peer behaviours described by the
children in Warden and Christie’s (1997) sample.

Aims and hypotheses

Notwithstanding this recent attention to the prosocial, there has been little examination
of the specific sociocognitive characteristics of prosocial children (although see Carlo,
Knight, Eisenberg, & Rotenberg, 1991; Nelson & Crick, 1999). More importantly, there
has been no direct comparison of the characteristics of children identified by their
peers as being prosocial, with those of peer-nominated bullies and victims. The aims of
the present study were, therefore, first, to implement a new method of identifying
samples of prosocial children, bullies and victims, and, second, to compare these
groups in terms of their sociometric status, empathy and social problem-solving

Sociometric status
Although previous research has shown that popular children engage in prosocial
behaviours, it does not follow that prosocial children are popular. This study will
establish a clearer link between social status and social behaviour by separately
identifying prosocial children and popular children. Likewise, previous work suggests
that, although bullies and victims are frequently rejected by their peers, some
(relational) bullies may acquire controversial or even popular status. By comparing
relational and/or female bullies with physical and/or male bullies, it is hoped to shed
further light on their peer group status.

It has been proposed that relational bullies have good perspective-taking skills, but may
lack empathy (Arsenio & Lemerise, 2001; Sutton et al., 1999). There is also evidence to
suggest that the perspective-taking skills of prosocial children are significantly superior
to those of bullies (Warden, Christie, Cheyne, Fitzpatrick, & Reid, in preparation).
Perspective-taking skills arguably depend on a certain level of self-perception, and, as
noted previously, the verbal self-report measure of empathy used here requires a degree
of self-perception from respondents. It is therefore predicted that prosocial children
will be more aware than bullies of their emotional responses to hypothetical situations,
although relational bullies may show greater self-reported empathy than physical

Social problem-solving
Following from the work of Richard and Dodge (1982), Joffe et al. (1990), and Erdley
and Asher (1996), it is anticipated that, when confronted by ambiguous social
situations, prosocial children are most likely to propose constructive solutions to such
situations, bullies are more likely to propose aggressive solutions, and victims will
propose passive/avoidant solutions. In terms of their awareness of the consequences of
their behaviour, bullies have been found to view the potential outcomes of aggressive
behaviour positively (e.g. Crick & Dodge, 1994, 1996). Such a self-centred view would
predict that bullies may be less aware of the negative consequences of their proposed
solution strategies than either prosocial children or victims.
372 David Warden and Suzanne Mackinnon
The initial subject sample comprised 131 9–10-year-old children (68 males and 63
females); the mean age of the sample was 9.6 years. The children were attending two
urban schools in the West of Scotland, matched for catchment area and socioeconomic
status. All children were in Primary 5 (P5), and there were three P5 classes in each
school. The sample was predominantly Caucasian (93%), with a small proportion of
Asian (6%) or Oriental (1%) origin. Children were recruited through active parental
permission, and the overall rate of participation was 68%. Seventy-four children
participated from School A (75% of all children in the three P5 classes), and School B
provided 57 participants (60% of the total class register).

Sociometric status
Coie, Dodge, and Coppotelli (1982) have proposed a two-dimensional model for
sociometric status: social preference (likeability), which represents the balance
between peer group rejection and acceptance; and social impact (visibility), which
is defined as the frequency with which the peer group accepts or rejects a child. These
two dimensions are assessed by asking children to nominate (usually) three peers with
whom they like to play most, and three with whom they like to play least. On the basis
of these like (L) and not like (NL) nominations, Coie et al. (1982) define five categories
of sociometric status. These are popular – high social preference and social impact
(high L, low NL scores); average – modest social preference and impact (average L and
NL scores); neglected – low social preference and impact (low L and NL scores);
rejected – low social preference, high social impact (low L and high NL scores); and
controversial – mixed social preference and high social impact (high L and high NL
scores). Standardized procedures for calculating the five status groupings have been
developed by Coie et al. (1982). This method of identifying children who differ in terms
of their peer group status has been widely accepted (Berndt & Ladd, 1989), although it
has received criticism, for example, for failing to incorporate reciprocated nominations,
and for its reliance on quantitative frequency data.

Social Behaviour Questionnaire

This questionnaire was constructed to reflect the empirically derived definition of
prosocial and antisocial child behaviours developed by Warden and Christie (1997).
The questionnaire comprises 12 items, addressing a range of prosocial behaviours (4
items), relational antisocial (4 items) and physical antisocial (4 items) behaviours – see
Appendix. Each item represents a specific and typical (i.e. frequently reported)
example of children’s experience.

Empathy index
Bryant’s (1982) Empathy Index is a 22-item questionnaire, featuring a variety of
empathic and non-empathic statements, e.g. ‘I get upset when I see a girl being hurt’,
‘Kids who have no friends probably don’t want any’. Minor linguistic modifications
were made to some items to make them more locally meaningful to Scottish children
(e.g. substituting the word ‘sweeties’ for ‘cookies’). To achieve better differentiation,
Prosocial children, bullies and victims 373

the scoring system was modified from Bryant’s original yes/no responses, to a 5-point
scale (1 - really agree, 5 - really disagree).

Social problem-solving task

This measure was derived from the Social Skills Analysis developed by Joffe et al.
(1990). Children are presented with problematic, socially awkward situations, and
asked to suggest: (i) how to resolve the situation, and (ii) what would be the
consequences of their proposed solution strategy. Three problem situations were used,
each in two versions so that the gender of the protagonists matched that of the

(a) Tom/Julie is in the playground, and s/he sees a group of children from his/her class
pointing at him/her and laughing.
(b) In the dinner hall, John/Sarah is looking for somewhere to sit. S/he sees a spare seat
beside a group of boys/girls from his/her class, and goes over. But before s/he can
sit down, the others tell him/her s/he can’t sit there.
(c) Tony/Laura always sits on the same seat on the school bus. One day, T/L gets on
the bus and sees that another boy/girl is sitting on his/her seat.

This test is scored using a set scoring protocol, developed by Joffe et al. (1990), which
examines the types of possible solutions that children suggest, their preferred solution,
and their perceptions of the consequences of such a solution. Possible and preferred
solutions are coded as:

Directly Assertive – addressing the problem constructively, e.g. asking the children
why they are laughing.
Indirectly Assertive – addressing the problem more cautiously or circuitously, e.g.
joining the group without mentioning the problem, seeking someone else’s
Passive – walking away from, avoiding or ignoring the problem.
Aggressive – making a physically or verbally aggressive response.
Vague – other solutions that cannot be scored as one of the above.

Children’s perceptions of the consequences of their preferred solutions are coded as

positive or negative, and as short-term or long-term. Short-term outcomes are defined as
those which occur within the context of the presented situation, whereas long-term
outcomes are those which might occur in subsequent contexts.

Stage 1: Procedure
Children were interviewed individually in an area of the school that afforded privacy.
The female experimenter first explained that the interview would be about how
different children got on with each other, and stressed that it was entirely confidential.
This confidentiality was also emphasized to the class teachers and, in the permission
letter, to the parents. After a few minutes general conversation, the first measure was

Sociometric status
Participants were shown a list of the names of the other children in their class who
374 David Warden and Suzanne Mackinnon

were acting as participants, i.e. who had agreed to participate and whose parents had
given permission. They were asked to choose, from this list, three same sex peers with
whom they would most like to play, and then three same-sex peers with whom they
would not like to play (or, if no choice was made, with whom they would least like to
play). In one of the three classes in School B, owing to lower participation rates, the
names of only two same sex peers were elicited.
To identify whether children had Popular, Average, Neglected, Rejected or
Controversial status within their peer group, the mean scores and standard deviations
were computed for Like (L) and Not Like (NL) nominations. As children provided
information on same-sex peers only, the means and standard deviations for boys and
girls were examined separately. Each child then had his or her own L and NL scores
standardised using the z score procedure. The criteria developed by Coie et al. (1982)
were then applied to identify those children who could be categorised into one or more
of the five status groups.

Social Behaviour Questionnaire

Self-rating and peer nominations. After initial practice in using a 5-point scale, e.g. ‘do
you tidy your bedroom without having to be told?’ (1 = never, 5 = very often), children
were introduced to the Social Behaviour Questionnaire. They were first asked to
consider the 12 items in relation to themselves, and told that each question was about
something they might have done since they started in Primary 5. Children were told to
circle the number they thought was most like how they behaved. In the main, children
read the items themselves, but, in a few cases, the experimenter assisted with reading.
Reminders of what the 5-point scale represented were given periodically. After their
self-rating, children were asked to complete the questionnaire again, this time in
relation to three of their classmates. Each child was presented with a different set of
three names, such that the names of all participating classmates were presented equally
often (three times) across the whole sample.
Finally, in order to assess victimization, children were given a standard definition of
bullying (cf. Boulton & Underwood, 1992). They were then shown the list of names of
participating children in their class, including their own name, and asked to write down
the name(s) of any child(ren) on the list whom they thought was being bullied.
The first assessment session, which lasted for 20–25 minutes, then ended with a
reassurance that all information given would be kept private, and an intimation that
some children would be interviewed again in a few weeks.

Scoring of prosocial, antisocial and victim nominations

Each child was rated (from 1 to 5) four times (self-rating + three peer ratings) on each of
12 behaviours (4 prosocial, 4 physical bullying and 4 relational bullying). Thus, each
child could potentially receive 80 nominations for each of these three categories of
social behaviour. To identify a child as prosocial, Bully or Victim, each child’s mean
score was calculated (total number of nominations for these behaviours ¥ 4), and the
following criteria were adopted:
To be identified as a prosocial child, a child’s mean prosocial score should be at least
one standard deviation above the class mean prosocial score, and his/her mean bully
scores (physical and relational) should each be below the class mean bully scores.
To be identified as a bully, either physical, relational or mixed, a child should have a
mean bully score that is one standard deviation above the class mean for physical, or
Prosocial children, bullies and victims 375

relational, or physical and relational bullying, and a mean prosocial score that is below
the class mean prosocial score.
Classification for victim status was achieved by converting the total number of
victim nominations (including self-nominations) received by each child into a
percentage of total possible class nominations. Following the procedure used by
Salmivalli et al. (1996), to be identified as a victim, children had to receive 30% or more
of the class vote, including self-nominations. Classification as a victim, in line with
Salmivalli’s procedure, was considered primary, i.e. a child would be considered a
victim even if s/he also fulfilled the criteria for being categorised as prosocial or as a

Stage 2: Procedure
When the data from Stage 1 had been analysed, all children who were identified as
being prosocial, bullies or victims were individually re-interviewed three weeks later. A
few minutes was spent reminding the child of the previous interview, and focusing his/
her attention on the nature of the present interview, which this time concerned the
interviewee him/herself rather than his/her peers.

Children were once again introduced to the use of a 5-point scale, but this time one
which represented agreement or disagreement. Each point on the scale was explained
so that children could follow the progression from 1 = a statement with which you
really agree, to 5 = a statement with which you really disagree. After a few practice
items (e.g. ‘I think football is a stupid game’), children were presented with the 22
statements in the Empathy Index. The positive (agree) item responses were reversed
during scoring, so that high scores indicated high empathy. Each child’s empathy score
was then calculated by totalling the individual item scores.

Social problem-solving
The three story scenarios were read out in sequence to the children, and, for each one,
they were asked to respond to three questions.

Q1 What could (child’s name) do to resolve the situation? (Children were

encouraged to give more than one response).
Q2 If that happened to you, what would you do? (Children were asked to select their
preferred strategy).
Q3 What would be good/bad about doing that? (Children were encouraged to think
about the consequences of their preferred strategy).

Responses (solution strategies and perceived outcomes) were coded by one of the
authors (SM), and checked for reliability with the assistance of two independent judges,
one of whom coded 20% of all possible and preferred solutions proposed, while the
other coded 20% of all consequences generated. Using the Kappa coefficient, the inter-
rater reliability for possible and preferred solutions was .99, and for perceived
consequences of solutions was .85.
376 David Warden and Suzanne Mackinnon
Stage 1: Peer nominations
Using the Social Behaviour Scale, each child self-rated, and was rated by three of his/her
peers. Averaging these four ratings, each child was given a mean rating for prosocial
behaviour, physical antisocial behaviour and relational antisocial behaviour. Table 1
shows the mean ratings achieved by children in the six participating classes, for each
behaviour category. Across the whole subject sample (N = 131), the alpha reliability
coefficient for each of the three subscales was .80 or above.

Table 1. Mean ratings, and standard deviations, for prosocial and bullying behaviours, across the six
participating classes

Prosocial behaviour Physical bullying Relational bullying

Class 1 (N = 26) 10.03 (2.48) 5.85 (2.12) 5.83 (1.14)

Class 2 (N = 21) 10.46 (2.34) 5.55 (1.54) 5.99 (1.20)
Class 3 (N = 27) 10.52 (2.36) 6.38 (2.08) 6.56 (1.47)
Class 4 (N = 20) 12.11 (2.35) 6.03 (1.90) 6.08 (1.26)
Class 5 (N = 24) 10.84 (2.19) 6.31 (1.79) 6.18 (1.64)
Class 6 (N = 13) 10.56 (1.89) 5.29 (1.10) 5.71 (1.17)

Twenty-one children (17 girls and 4 boys) met the criteria to be classified as
prosocial. Three children (all boys) were classified as physical bullies, 9 children as
relational bullies (5 boys, 4 girls) and 11 children (10 boys and 1 girl) were identified as
mixed bullies (i.e. satisfying the criteria for both physical and relational bullying). A
further 9 children (2 girls and 7 boys) were classified as victims. Five children (4 boys)
were classified as bully–victims, satisfying the criteria for both bullying and
victimization. Owing to the small numbers involved, and where appropriate for
statistical purposes, the three groups of bullies (physical, relational and mixed) will be
treated as one group. Likewise, following Salmivalli’s injunction that classification as
victim should be primary, victims and bully–victims were combined where
appropriate. Comparing the three main groups (21 prosocial children, 23 bullies and
14 victims), the gender imbalance was significant (À2(2) = 19.23, p < .001). Girls were
significantly more likely to be categorized as prosocial, and boys were significantly
more likely to be categorized as bullies or as victims.

Stage 1: Sociometric status

The results of children’s sociometric nominations are summarized in Table 2, which
shows the mean sociometric rating (‘like’ nominations minus ‘not like’ nominations, L
¡ NL) for each of the six role groups, and the sociometric status (popular, rejected,
etc.) of the children in these groups.
The children in the six role groups differed significantly in their sociometric ratings
(one-way ANOVA, F(5, 52) = 8.158, p < .000). Most striking are the extremely low
ratings obtained by the bully–victim group. However, after removing this group from
the comparison, the ratings of the remaining five groups still differed significantly (one-
way ANOVA, F(4, 48) = 5.599, p = .001). Subsequent Tukey HSD tests showed a
significant difference between the ratings of the prosocial children and those of
Prosocial children, bullies and victims 377
Table 2. Sociometric ratings and sociometric status of prosocial children, bullies and victims

Prosocial Relational bully Physical bully Mixed bully Victim Bully-victim

N = 21 N=9 N=3 N = 11 N=9 N=5

Mean rating (L – NL) 2.38 71.22 71.33 72.18 72.00 76.2

Popular 12 (57%) 2 (22%) 1 (33%) 1 (9%) 0 0
Rejected 1 (5%) 4 (44%) 1 (33%) 5 (45%) 2 (22%) 5 (100%)
Average 3 (14%) 2 (22%) 1 (33%) 2 (18%) 4 (44%) 0
Neglected 1 (5%) 0 0 0 2 (22%) 0
Controversial 1 (5%) 1 (12%) 0 2 (18%) 0 0
Uncategorized 3 (14%) 0 0 1 (9%) 1 (12%) 0

relational bullies (p < .05), mixed bullies (p < .01) and victims (p < .01). There were no
significant differences between the ratings of any of the other role groups. Nor, despite
the gender imbalance in the role groupings, was there any overall difference in the
sociometric ratings of boys and girls. As a consequence of these ratings, Prosocial
children were significantly more likely to be achieve Popular status (À2(2) = 15.72,
p < .001), and significantly less likely to achieve Rejected status (À2(2) = 10.80,
p < .01) than either bullies or victims. Ten bullies (43%) were accorded Rejected status,
but there were, notably, four popular bullies, all boys. Interestingly, popularity eluded
the five female bullies, as it did seven of the nine relational bullies. The victim group
was distributed across the Average, Neglected and Rejected categories, but bully–
victims were distinctive by being the most decisively Rejected group of all.

Stage 2: Empathy
A one-way ANOVA showed that the three main role groups differed significantly in their
empathy scores (Prosocial Mean = 76.7, SD = 10.70; Bully Mean = 69.57, SD = 6.32;
victim Mean = 71.14, SD = 6.16; F(2, 55) = 4.357, p = .018). Subsequent Tukey HSD
tests established that prosocial children were more empathic than Bullies (p = .016).
However, given the gender imbalance in the role groups, a one-way ANCOVA (see
Table 3) showed that, when gender was covaried out, the main effect of role group was
not significant (F(2, 54) = 1.073, p = .349). The difference between the genders was
significant (F(1, 54) = 10.498, p = .002).

Stage 2: Social problem-solving

It was predicted that prosocial children would be more likely to opt for Directly
Assertive solutions, bullies for Aggressive solutions, and victims for Passive solutions,

Table 3. ANCOVA summary table for the effects of role group on empathy, controlling for gender

Source of variance Sums of squares Degrees of freedom Mean square F-ratio

Covariate (gender) 668.32 1 668.32 10.498*

Main effect (role group) 136.55 2 68.28 1.073
Residual error 3437.63 54 63.66

*Significant at 1% level.
378 David Warden and Suzanne Mackinnon

and, possibly, Indirectly Assertive solutions. It was also expected that prosocial
children would be more aware of, and so generate both positive and negative outcomes
to their solution strategies, bullies would generate more positive than negative
outcomes, and victims would generate fewer positive (particularly long-term)

Solution strategies
For each of the three problem situations, children were asked to suggest a number of
possible solutions that the protagonist could adopt, and then, in each case, to identify
their own preferred solution. Their response strategies were coded into the four broad
categories used by Joffe et al. (1990), viz. Directly Assertive (e.g. ‘I’d ask them why
they’re laughing’, ‘I’d tell George to move’), Indirectly Assertive (e.g. ‘I’d tell the
teacher’, ‘I’d sit down anyway and have my lunch quietly’), Passive (e.g. ‘I’d walk
away’, ‘I’d ignore them’) or Aggressive (e.g. ‘I’d get mad at them’, ‘Get my friends to
laugh at them’, ‘Shove George off the seat’). The total frequency with which each role
group proposed these strategies, as both a possible and a preferred option, is shown in
Table 4.

Table 4. Total frequencies of possible and preferred solution strategies proposed by the three main
role groups

Directly Assertive Indirectly Assertive Passive Aggressive Total N

Prosocial Possible 58 = 38% 39 = 26% 49 = 32% 5 = 3% 151

N = 21 Preferred 26 = 41% 12 = 19% 25 = 40% 0 63 (2163)
Bullies Possible 25 = 17% 41 = 28% 70 = 47% 13 = 8% 149
N = 23 Preferred 13 = 19% 11 = 16% 39 = 57% 6 = 8% 69 (2363)
Victims Possible 41 = 42% 25 = 25% 30 = 31% 2 = 2% 98
N = 14 Preferred 13 = 31% 13 = 31% 15 = 36% 1 = 2% 42 (1463)

Possible solutions
One-way unrelated ANOVA discovered no significant role group or gender differences
in the total number of all possible solutions proposed (role group, F(5, 52) = 0.639,
p = .671; gender, F(1, 56) = 2.304, p = .135). However, multiple comparison ANOVA
and ANCOVA found significant differences between the three main groups in the total
number of Directly Assertive solutions proposed (F(2,54) =10.390, p < .001) for which
gender was not a significant covariate (F(1,54) = 1.738, p = .193). Scheffé tests found
that both prosocial children and victims generated more Directly Assertive solutions
than did bullies (p < .001). There were no other significant role group differences in
the frequency with which any of the other strategies were proposed.

Preferred solutions
Multiple comparison ANOVA and ANCOVA revealed a significant difference between
the three main role groups in the frequency of Directly Assertive solutions preferred
(F(2,54) = 4.208, p = .02), for which gender was not a significant covariate
(F(1,54) = 0.268, p = ns). Forty-one percent of prosocial children’s preferred solutions
were Directly Assertive, compared with 31% and 19% of the preferred solutions of
Prosocial children, bullies and victims 379

victims and bullies respectively. Scheffé tests showed that prosocial children proposed
such strategies as their preferred option significantly more often than did bullies
(p < .05). There were no other significant role group differences in preferred solutions.

Perceived outcomes
Having proposed their preferred solution strategies to each of the three situations,
children were asked to consider both the positive and negative outcomes of such
strategies. As can be seen in Table 5, the majority of children in all three role groups
focused upon short-term (e.g. ‘They might not listen to you’) rather than long-term (e.g.
‘They might do it to others as well as you’) outcomes, when describing both the
positive (e.g. ‘I’d get to sit down’) and the negative (e.g. ‘It might be someone else’s
seat’) consequences of their strategies. Multiple comparison ANOVA and ANCOVA
showed that there were significant role group differences, for which gender was not a
covariate, in both the total number of negative outcomes described (Group: F(2, 54) =
3.102, p = .053; Gender: F(1, 54) = 0.797, p = .376), and in the number of short-term
negative outcomes described (Group: F(2, 54) = 4.875, p = .011; Gender: F(1, 54) =
0.395, p = .532). Scheffé tests showed that prosocial children suggested more negative
outcomes than did bullies (total negative outcomes, p = .058; short-term negative
outcomes, p = .016).

Table 5. Distribution of short- and long-term positive and negative outcomes proposed by role
groups (total numbers and percentages)

Positive outcomes Negative outcomes

Short-term Long-term None * Short-term Long-term None*

Prosocial 43 (68%) 14 (22%) 6 (10%) 44 (70%) 7 (11%) 12 (19%)

Bullies 54 (78%) 10 (14%) 5 (8%) 29 (42%) 9 (7%) 31 (45%)
Victims 29 (69%) 10 (24%) 3 (7%) 24 (57%) 9 (21%) 9 (21%)

*In these cases, children were unable to describe any consequence of their preferred solution strategy.

Identifying prosocial children, bullies and victims
It is important to note the gender imbalance in the different role groups. Peer-
nominated prosocial children were predominantly female, whereas victims and bullies
were predominantly male. Although this gender imbalance does raise difficulties of
interpretation for subsequent comparisons of role groups, it almost certainly reflects
reality in the children’s classroom. Indeed, this imbalance replicates the results of a
much larger study (Warden, Cheyne, Christie, Fitzpatrick, & Reid, in press), involving a
sample of over 300 children across 13 schools, in which boys were again more likely
than girls to be identified as bullies, and girls were more often identified as being
prosocial. However, this larger study found a much smaller gender imbalance in the
identification of victims. Gender differences in bullying styles have been noted
previously (e.g. Crick & Grotpeter, 1995). Female bullies have been found more often
to employ relational or non-physical bullying strategies, whereas male bullies are more
380 David Warden and Suzanne Mackinnon

likely to be physical. The present data, which identified physical, relational and mixed
bullies, lend only partial support to this view. Of the 5 female bullies identified, all
engaged in relational bullying; but so too did 15 of the 18 male bullies. Notwithstanding
the relatively small sample size, this result casts doubt on any simple association
between gender and bullying technique.
A significant outcome of the peer nomination process, which argues for the validity
of the assessment method, was the mutual exclusivity of the categories. All the children
who were identified as prosocial had very low antisocial scores; and children who were
identified as bullies all had very low prosocial scores.

Sociometric status and social behaviour

In the light of anecdotal evidence from teachers and children that prosocial behaviour
may be undervalued by children, the present findings disconfirm this view, and
corroborate previous work (e.g. Boulton & Smith, 1994; Salmivalli et al., 1996) on the
relationship between social behaviour and social status. Prosocial children were
significantly more likely than bullies or victims to be popular, and bullies and victims
were significantly more likely than Prosocial children to be rejected.
One unresolved issue concerns direction of causality. Are children popular because
they are prosocial, or does popularity foster prosocial behaviour? Further research using
path analytic techniques may help to answer this question. However, the existence of
popular bullies and non-popular prosocial children highlights the fact that the social
behaviour/social status relationship is complicated by other factors, not least, gender.
Although there was a strong gender imbalance in the social role groups, this was not
apparent in children’s sociometric status groups, in which there were no overall gender
differences. The most plausible explanation for this is methodological. Whereas
children were constrained to make same-sex sociometric nominations, which is the
normal practice, their social behaviour nominations were not so constrained. Had only
same-sex social behaviour nominations been elicited, it is possible that more prosocial
boys and female bullies and victims would have been identified.
Although many bullies (N = 10, 43%), and a few victims (N = 2, 22%) achieved
rejected status, it was the bully–victims (N = 5, 100%) who stood out as being most
frequently and comprehensively rejected by their peers. Given the higher level of
rejection among bullies than among victims, one tentative interpretation of this limited
data is that it was their own bullying behaviour more than their victimization that led to
peer rejection of bully–victims. But that can only be part of the story. It is here that the
limitations of a quantitative approach to sociometry are evident, as no data are available
on why their peers did not want to play with these children.
One explanation for bully popularity is that bullies can be skilful at manipulating
support. However, only two of the relational bullies, who might be expected to employ
such skill, were accorded popular status; both of them, interestingly, were boys.

The primary hypothesis was that prosocial children would manifest more empathic
awareness than either bullies or victims, and this proved significantly to be the case.
However, this result was confounded by the gender imbalance in the samples. It was
prosocial girls and not prosocial boys who demonstrated greater empathic awareness
than the children in other groups. Indeed, prosocial boys were less empathic than
Prosocial children, bullies and victims 381

antisocial girls. Some interesting hypotheses emerge from this result. First, empathy
may not be the necessary prerequisite for prosocial behaviour that has often been
suggested (e.g. Eisenberg & Fabes, 1998). If prosocial boys are no more empathic than
boys who are bullies or victims, the central prosocial role ascribed to empathic
awareness is called in question. Or, perhaps more accurately, empathic awareness may
be a guiding characteristic of girls who behave prosocially, whereas boys may act
prosocially for other, non-empathic reasons, such as group membership, popularity,
etc. A concomitant hypothesis would be that boys and girls might differ in how they
perceive and identify with empathic behaviours, with consequences for their self-
reports. If girls have a more positive view than boys of empathic behaviours, at least
those represented in the Bryant questionnaire, then their empathy self-ratings will
consequentially be higher. Although beyond the scope of the present paper, evidence
for such gender differentiation might be gleaned from children’s self-reports of why
they propose prosocial responses to social situations, or, indeed, from their ratings of
the desirability/acceptability of the behaviours presented in the Bryant questionnaire.
As noted earlier, empathy is a notoriously elusive construct, both to define and to
measure. Verbal self-reports, such as the method used here, provide insight into
respondents’ empathic awareness, but do not assess vicarious emotional responding.
Eisenberg and Fabes (1998) have plausibly argued that it is the latter that will determine
prosocial behaviour. However, the present results do not support this view, insofar as
children who were identified as behaving prosocially (predominantly girls) also scored
highly on the verbal self-report measure of empathy.

Social problem-solving
Previous studies (e.g. Joffe et al., 1990; Richard & Dodge, 1982) have found that
aggressive boys and conduct-disordered adolescents generated fewer constructive, and
more ineffective or aggressive solutions to socially awkward situations, and anticipated
fewer negative consequences of their solutions than did normal or non-aggressive
children. It was therefore hypothesized that prosocial children, bullies and victims
would respectively show tendencies to offer constructive solutions, aggressive
solutions and passive solutions to problematic social situations. This three-horned
hypothesis was partially confirmed by role group differences, which were not
confounded by gender differences. Prosocial children did indeed offer significantly
more constructive (Directly Assertive) solutions to the problem situations than did the
bullies. Victims were also significantly more constructive than bullies, who were, in
turn, surprisingly likely to offer passive solutions. Based on the findings of previous
studies (e.g. Crick & Dodge, 1994; Dodge et al., 1997), it was also hypothesized that
bullies would perceive positive consequences deriving from their behaviours, and be
less mindful of the negative consequences. As it transpired, the bullies in this study
rarely proposed Aggressive solution strategies. Rather, they proposed Passive or
Indirectly Assertive solution strategies. However, bullies were significantly less aware
than prosocial children of the possible negative consequences of their solution
strategies, while at the same time showing most awareness of possible positive
outcomes. It would seem, therefore, that children who engage in bullying behaviours
may indeed have a social information-processing deficit (Crick & Dodge, 1994). In
terms of Crick and Dodge’s five-stage model, the responses elicited here support the
view that bullies may lack the ability to judge the efficacy of their behaviours.
The use of constructive solutions by both prosocial children and victims raises an
382 David Warden and Suzanne Mackinnon

interesting question in relation to gender, for although prosocial children were

predominantly female (17 of 21), victims were predominantly male (11 of 14).
Furthermore, the four Prosocial boys were more likely than the three female victims to
propose Directly Assertive solutions as their preferred strategy (42% of the boys’
preferred solutions, compared with 22% of the girls’). On the basis of this limited data,
it seems that both male and female prosocial children, but only male victims show an
inclination to resolve interpersonal uncertainties in a constructive manner.

In direct comparisons with bullies and victims, prosocial children were found to be
significantly more popular, showed greater empathic awareness, a better capacity to
respond constructively to socially difficult situations, and more awareness of the
possible negative consequences of their actions than did bullies. Victims were less
popular than prosocial children, but did not differ significantly from them on measures
of empathy and social problem-solving. Because of the gender imbalance in the peer-
nominated groups, gender differences have figured in some results. Gender was a
significant covariate in the measure of empathy, but not in measures of social problem-
solving. These results merit further examination, using more varied methodologies, a
larger subject sample and a wider age range to explore developmental aspects of the
relationship between the variables.
This paper has reported the use of a new Social Behaviour Questionnaire, which is
unique and distinctive for the reasons outlined earlier, and can be used effectively to
identify children in terms of their prosocial or antisocial behaviours. The internal
consistency (alpha coefficients) of the items in this short questionnaire was reassuringly
high, the social role groupings identified by the questionnaire were mutually exclusive,
and the children categorised in these different groups have shown many of the
distinguishing characteristics (social status, social problem-solving strategies) that our
hypotheses and previous research have predicted. These results suggest that the
measure is both reliable and valid. The gender imbalance in the role groups identified
by the measure raises the question of whether its subsequent use should focus on
eliciting same-sex nominations.

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Received 20 December 2001; revised version received 28 October 2002

Prosocial children, bullies and victims 385
Appendix: Social Behaviour Scale
Peer nomination version
Since X has been in this class, has s/he done any of these things to another child in the
class? For each question, circle the number you think is most like how X would behave.
1 = something X never does . . .; 5 = something X does very often.

(1) Offered to share his/her things with another child. P

(2) Tried to stop his/her friends being friends with another child s/he didn’t like.RA
(3) Made up nasty stories about another child that s/he knew weren’t true. RA
(4) Hit or kicked another child. PA
(5) Told his/her friends that a child who gets bullied is stupid and deserves it. RA
(6) Tried to help another child in his/her class with a problem. P
(7) Broken or damaged another child’s things, meaning to upset them. PA
(8) Taken things belonging to another child, or threatened to hurt another child
to get something from him/her. PA
(9) Threatened to stop being friends with another child, to get what s/he
wanted. RA
(10) Comforted another child who was hurt or upset. P
(11) Thrown things at someone in his/her class. PA
(12) Tried to get children in class to play or work together. P

P = Prosocial, PA = Physical Antisocial, RA = Relational Antisocial.

Self-evaluation version
Since you have been in this class, have you done any of these things to any of the
children in your class?
For each question, circle the number that you think is most like how you would behave.
1 = something you never do . . .; 5 = something you do very often.

Victim nominations
Thinking about the definition of bullying you have been given, please write down the
names of any children in your class who you think are being bullied by someone else in
your class.