ESRC Humour and School Bullying Project


This research project was commissioned by the ESRC. The project is based in the School of Psychology, Keele University. It started on August 1 2011 and is due to finish in the March, 2013 – although we intend to continue the research beyond this date. The Principal Investigator is Claire Fox. The Co-Investigator is Simon Hunter (University of Strathclyde). I am the Research Associate.

You can follow the progress of the project on its website.


This project examines the role that different humour styles may play in the maintenance and resistance of bullying. Bullying is a social process, but little  research has focused on the social functions of humour in children (which may include bullying) or the way that these functions develop through childhood and adolescence.  We are investigating the importance of humour as both a means by which perpetrators of bullying may get at their targets (through maladaptive humour) and as a means by which targets might be protected from bullying (by using adaptive humour).

Researchers have identified four dimensions reflecting the use of humour in everyday life: two are assumed to be adaptive and two maladaptive:

Self-enhancing humour is used to enhance the self, but is not detrimental to others (e.g. ‘If I am feeling scared I find that it helps to laugh’).

Aggressive humour on the other hand, while enhancing the self (at least in the short-term), is done at the expense of others (e.g. ‘If someone makes a mistake I will often tease them about it’).

Affiliative humour is done to enhance one’s relationships with others and reduce interpersonal tensions (e.g.’I often make other people laugh by telling jokes and funny stories’ ).

Self-defeating humour is also done to enhance one’s relationships with others, but at the expense of denigration of the self (e.g. ‘I often try to get other people to like me more by saying something funny about things that are wrong with me or mistakes that I make’).

The present research aims to assess the relationships between humour styles and bullying in schools using a short-term (one-year) longitudinal design. Children aged 11-13 years have completed measures on a whole class basis at the beginning and end of a school year (N = 1 200).

The measures included a peer nomination/rating inventory and self-report
questionnaires to assess: verbal, physical and indirect/relational bullying and peer victimisation, peer acceptance, number of friends, humour styles, depression, loneliness, and self-esteem.

The links between humour styles, bullying, victimisation, and psychosocial adjustment are now being explored.


There are four main reseach objectives of the project:

1. To look at the relationships between humour styles and peer victimisation

We want to investigate whether the experience of being bullied leads to decreases in the use of the more adaptive humour styles over time (i.e. affiliative and self-enhancing), since targets may have fewer opportunities to practise their humour with their peers. It has been suggested that victims of bullying attempt to improve their relationship with others by using self-defeating humour.  We will examine whether there is a bi-directional relationship between the two variables with use of self-defeating humour increasing the risk of peer victimisation over time (because it reflects an underlying low self-esteem).

Conversely, we want to find out if affiliative and self-enhancing humour will serve to protect children and so predict decreases in peer victimisation over time. The longitudinal relationships between the four humour styles and different types of peer victimisation will be examined since certain types of bullying (e.g. verbal bullying) could make a larger contribution towards the development of a self-defeating humour style. Equally, it is possible that certain types of bullying (e.g. social exclusion) might have a greater impact on the development of the two adaptive humour styles.

2.  To look at the relationships between humour styles and bullying

We also want to look at whether perpetrators are more likely to use an aggressive style of humour. The proposed research will also examine whether there are any differences between ‘overt’ (i.e. overt verbal and physical) and ‘indirect/relational’ perpetrators of bullying (i.e. those who use more subtle forms such as social exclusion, gossip, giving dirty looks). We expect that perpetrators of indirect/relational bullying will be more likely to use affiliative humour and that perpetrators of more direct bulying will rely more on the use of aggressive humour.

3. To look at the relationships between humour styles and peer acceptance / friendship.

We want to examine whether using an aggressive humour style will predict lower peer acceptance and number of friends over time. Conversely, we want to research whether the more adaptive forms of humour will predict an increase in peer acceptance and number of friends over time.

4. To look at whether different humour styles change the relationship between peer victimisation and psychosocial adjustment.

We are seeking to investigate whether self-enhancing humour will moderate the relationship between peer victimisation and psychological maladjustment, with those who use self-enhancing humour ‘buffered’ against the negative effects of peer victimisation. Based on past research, we expect that self-defeating humour will mediate the relationship between victimisation and maladjustment. Specifically, when self-defeating humour is used to combat peer victimization we predict that this will lead to maladjustment over time.

Research Papers

Fox, C., Hunter, S.C., & Jones, S.E. (in press, Aug 2016). Reciprocity between humor styles and psychosocial adjustment in children. Europe’s Journal of Psychology, Special Humor Issue.

Fox, C., Hunter, S.C., & Jones, S.E. (2016). Children’s humor types and psychosocial adjustment. Personality and Individual Differences, 89, 86-91.OPEN ACCESS HERE:

Hunter, S.C., Fox, C., & Jones, S.E. (2016). Humor style similarity and difference in friendship dyads. Journal of Adolescence, 46, 30-37. OPEN ACCESS HERE –

Fox, C., Hunter, S.C., & Jones, S.E. (2015). The relationship between peer victimization and children’s humor styles: It’s no laughing matter! Social Development, 24(3), 443-461. JOURNAL LINK HERE:

Jones, S.E., Fox, C.L., Gilman, H., James, L., Karic, T., Wright-Bevans, K., & Caines, V. (2013). “I’m being called names and I’m being hit”: Challenges of longitudinal research on bullying among 11-13 year-olds. Pastoral Care in Education, 31 (2), 321-336. JOURNAL LINK HERE: 


Conferences/ presentations:

Hunter, S.C. (2014). Humour and young people’s involvement in bullying. Invited seminar, York St John University, 30 April. OPEN ACCESS HERE:


Jones, S.E., Fox, C., & Hunter S. (2013). Bullying and belonging: A longitudinal study of the protective role of defenders in children’s friendship groups. Talk presented to the BPS Developmental Section, Reading, UK (September).

Jones, S.E., Fox, C., & Hunter S. (2012). Laughing together: The role of humor styles in children’s friendships and bullying. Talk presented to the BPS Developmental Section, Glasgow, (September).

Jones, S.E., Fox, C., & Hunter S. (2012). Laughing together: The role of humor styles in children’s friendships. Talk presented to the International Humor Society Conference, Krakow (June).


3 thoughts on “ESRC Humour and School Bullying Project

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