A classic example of bullying is a scenario in which a much larger, stronger bully physically intimidates and harasses a smaller, weaker victim to steal the victim’s lunch money. You might think that the obvious solution to the bullying in this example is to punish the bully to prevent the behavior from reoccurring. It would be nice if the solution were that simple, but it often is not. The bully may receive gains from the behavior (positive reinforcement; e.g., money to buy more food at lunch or respect from peers) that outweigh the punishment. Furthermore, if the bullying has occurred over a length of time with the same victim, the victim may also develop a conditioned response. For example, suppose that the school bell signaling that it is lunch time rings just before the bully approaches the victim for his lunch money. Initially the bell is a neutral stimulus that produces no specific response. Over time, the victim may associate the bell with the fear response of being bullied, such that the bell alone triggers a fear response in the potential victim. Now the bell is a conditioned stimulus because it elicits a conditioned response.
Classical and operant conditioning can be used to understand why bullying occurs, as illustrated in the previous example, and to design effective interventions to reduce bullying behavior. In this discussion, you will use classical or operant conditioning to propose a strategy to mitigate bullying.