This study explored one potential intervention strategy in order to add to the growing body of research on bullying. The researchers designed the study for a single-subject, changing-criterion format. Selected through stratified random sampling, middle school student participant D underwent five weeks of NLP sessions with Teacher M (the independent variable) to ascertain whether there is a relationship between that and frequency of bullying behavior (the dependent variable). The researchers measured the dependent variable via the reports of the participant, his teachers, his peers and footage recorded via hidden cameras placed strategically around campus. At the end of the final week, the results showed a decrease in incidents of bullying behavior. However, the researchers caution against generalizing the results to the real world given the limitations of the single subject study. It is highly recommended that additional research be carried out using larger groups and greater control measures for extraneous variables.
Keywords: Bullying, Intervention, NLP
Bullying has been a prevalent problem in schools for many years now. While the traditional idea of bullying is that of a bigger, stronger male physically assaulting and harassing those whom he perceives to be smaller and weaker than he is, not all instances of bullying fit this description. Bullying can take on more covert forms (Byers, et al, 2011) and even females can bully others. Regardless of the form it takes or the genders involved, however, bullying is usually associated with a desire and display of power and control (Milsom & Gallo, 2006).
If that is truly the case, then perhaps the proper response to bullying must also involve some degree of power and control, albeit in a different way. This has frequently come up in studies that seek to understand and what can be done to deal with it or prevent it altogether. Venestra, et al. (2014), for instance, have studied attitudes with respect to bullying and antibullying, as well as the efficacy of authority figures in dealing with the problem. Their study suggests that perception of teachers’ efficacy in handling situations of bullying is inversely proportional to the amount of bullying that actually takes place. This means that the more teachers elect to intervene and the more that they are perceived as effective, the less bullying tends to occur.
The question still remains, however: exactly what kind of intervention would be most effective in dealing with bullying behavior and in raising teacher’s perceived efficacy in handling it? That is the purpose of this study. Specifically, it is meant to add to the body of research regarding bullying, antibullying, prevention and the attitudes involved. It also aims to shed light on how an approach such as neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) would deal directly with the attitudes of the bully with respect to power and control. Since NLP is known for its therapeutic applications, the researchers wondered if it could be used to help bullies as well.
The researchers operationally defined the independent variable as the duration of NLP counseling sessions that the participant is subjected to while they operationally defined the dependent variable as the frequency of bullying behavior as measured by self-reports, peer/teacher reports and coded behavior caught on video camera. This study makes use of a single-subject method involving a changing-criterion design. This particular design best fits the researchers’ intention to measure the effectiveness of the NLP treatment by noting gradual changes in the participant’s behavior during the intervention period. Since they elected to track the participant’s progress closely, they agreed that this design best aligned with their interests and intentions compared to the other single-subject designs available.
The researchers chose the participant via the stratified random sampling method. Specifically, this involved working with the guidance offices of thirty middle schools across the country and obtaining a list of children with a recent history (noted over the past few weeks) of bullying behavior as noted by the guidance offices of their respective schools. From this predetermined list, the researchers chose a single, fourteen-year-old male participant of for their study (henceforth referred to as subject “D”) and noted his baseline behavior for reference.
The researchers then provided interventions by training a single teacher accomplice (henceforth referred to as “M”) in NLP methods (see Appendix A) and then having that teacher meet with that student twice a week to provide NLP-based counseling interventions. The researchers then tracked D’s progress over the course of several weeks’ worth of intervention phases. The time that Teacher M spent counseling D using NLP gradually increased in duration with each successive week, starting with ten minutes twice week and increasing in increments of ten minutes per session per successive week. Also, what initially started as a once a week intervention gradually grew to two fifty-minute session held by the end of the last phase during the fifth week. The researchers recorded D’s self-reports with respect to his behavior and M’s testimony regarding D. To increase the validity and reliability of the measuring, the researchers also obtained reports from D’s classmates and other teachers regarding his behavior throughout the rest of the week. The researchers also developed their own behavioral checklist code with respect to identifying bullying behavior (See Appendix B).
With their permission of M and other school officials, they also installed hidden cameras in key points along school premises that D usually frequents and compared the recorded videos of the participant against the testimonies of his peers and teachers. While the idea of installing hidden cameras may bring up certain ethical concerns, it was nevertheless necessary given the nature of the study. The researchers took the time to debrief D and all the accomplices involved once the study was over.
Figure 1 below tracks the progress of participant D throughout the five weeks of NLP counseling. The incidents of bullying captured on film verified the reports of gradually decreasing bully behavior that the participant, his teachers and his peers turned in.
Figure 1. The Relationship between NLP Sessions and Frequency of Bullying Incidents
The results of this study appear to agree with what Veenstra, et al. (2014) and Byers at al. (2011) discussed in their respective studies, namely that actual intervention and perceived efficacy of the intervener are linked to bullying behavior. There appears to be a decrease in bullying behavior of participant D after several weeks of intervention sessions involving Teacher M. There also appears to be an inverse relationship between the independent variable and dependent variable as increased applications of the criterion coincide with a decrease in the bullying behavior of D.
It is possible that the NLP intervention influenced the root issues that gave rise to D’s bullying behavior. The Non-Awareness Set, Mind-Bending Language and Dynamic Mental Imagery Exercise (see Appendix A) are all NLP techniques designed to influence the perception of the participant and create paradigm shifts. If it is indeed true that bullies exert power over others because they feel powerless (Milsom & Gallo, 2006), then NLP may be used to help them feel powerful without resorting to that kind of behavior.
However, the researchers cannot conclude that a causal relationship exists between the two variables. As with all studies involving single participants, a certain degree of caution is exercised with respect to generalizing results. Moreover, the researchers cannot be one hundred percent certain that they controlled for all possible extraneous variables in the study’s setup. It is possible that D may simply have responded to M and the results may not have been the same had another teacher (possibly of the male gender) had been assigned to intervene. The researchers also note that only D’s behavior within campus had been observed and not his behavior outside of it.
Therefore, it is highly recommended that additional studies be carried out that involve larger samples—studies that also test for interaction effects between independent variables. At the very best, this study may serve to support existing literature regarding the usefulness of antibullying interventions and the attitudes of the people that intervene.
1. Byers, D.L., Caltabiano, N.J., & Caltabiano, M.L. (2011). Teacher’s Attitudes Toward
Overt and Covert Bullying, and Perceived Efficacy to Intervene. Australian
2. Milsom, A., & Gallo, L.L. (2006).Bullying in Middle Schools: Prevention and
Intervention. Middle School Journal, 1-19. Retrieved from
3. Veenstra, R., Huitsing, G., Lindenberg, S., Sainio, M, & Salmivalli, C. (2014). The
Role of Teachers in Bullying: The Relation Between Antibullying Attitudes,
Efficacy and Efforts to Reduce Bullying. Journal of Educational Psychology, 106
(4), 1135-1143. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/a0036110
Appendix A: Sample of NLP Questions and Exercises
What are you feeling now?
[If participant feels bad] Where in your body do you feel it? (Have the participant point to it).
How would you like to feel?
When was the last time you felt that?
Where in your body did you feel that?
As you sit there, feeling good, think about how you felt earlier and notice what happens.
Close your eyes. Place the good feeling you have over the negative one. Imagine it swallow the negative feeling whole, never to be seen or felt again.
Check. Calibrate: “How do you feel now?”
If participant still feels bad, repeat until he/she feels good.
II. Mind-Bending Language Questions
What would have to happen for you to feel good without hurting anyone?
What about you does not need power yet feels good?
How can youfeel goodnowhereas you are?
Who are you not that is happyand besides that?
III. Dynamic Mental Imagery (for Emotional State Control)
Have the participant take a deep breath.
Have the participant close his eyes and imagine the most relaxing place he can be.
Ask him to describe to you what he sees, smells, feels, tastes and touches.
Let him stay there for a while and enjoy himself.
When he is ready, ask him to open his eyes and come back.
Appendix B: Bullying Behavioral Checklist
Check if the participant exhibits any of the following behaviors:
1. glares at another person
2. pushes or shoves another person
3. takes something that belongs to another person
4. speaks or acts condescendingly toward another person
5. refuses to obey authority figures
6. commits an act of violence (throws stones at people, punches people, etc)
7. vandalizes someone else’s belongings
8. insults or slanders a person in front of someone else
9. blatantly ignores someone
10. encourages other people to do the same as he is doing
11. coerces or threatens others
12. incites guilt or shame in others