Verbal abuse more common here Bullying in Hong Kong schools is unique in nature and requires a different approach to that in the west, an expert said this week. Yip Kam-shing, professor of applied social sciences at Polytechnic University, was speaking following news that British and American psychologists had devised a new approach which stresses the role of bystanders in defusing tension and hostility on campus. Published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, the research, conducted by University College London and American researchers, assessed the effectiveness of what it calls Creating a Peaceful School Learning Environment (Capsle), a three-year psychodynamic programme consisting of a series of early prevention schemes aimed at creating a harmonious campus environment. About 1,350 third to fifth graders, aged between eight and 11-years-old in nine US elementary schools, were involved in the study. Capsle was implemented in three of the schools, which were then compared with some which received no intervention and others which adopted the School Psychiatric Consultation (SPC) approach, where children with the most severe behavioural problems were singled out for assessment and counselling. While all of the schools had seen an increase in bullying by the end of the study, the six per cent increase in Capsle schools was lower than that in SPC (10 per cent) and zero-intervention schools (12 per cent). Stuart Twemlow, one of the study's lead authors, said Capsle adopted an early-intervention approach which involved the whole school. 'Instead of dealing with bullies and victims directly, Capsle addresses the relationship between bullies, victims and bystanders,' Professor Twemlow said. While schools traditionally mete out punishments and counselling to discourage aggressors from violent behaviour on campus, Professor Twemlow said 'empathy' and 'mentalising' tactics took centre stage in the new approach where bystanders were encouraged to consider and accept their role in abetting bullying by ignoring the victims. But Professor Yip said the new approach hardly suited the unique bullying culture in Hong Kong, which differed greatly to that of western schools. 'If the new approach is to yield effectiveness, tremendous adjustments have to be made to it,' he said. 'Western bullying is more physical in nature, with pushing and shoving and even fisticuffs. Resorting to physical violence is much less common in Chinese culture, which advocates reserve and forbearance. Bullying in Hong Kong is of a more verbal kind.' It was difficult to define the role of bystanders in cases of verbal abuse. 'When a person is attacked on campus, bystanders are those who are present at the scene but turn a blind eye to the attack. 'However, when a student ridicules or calls someone derogatory names, he's more like a gossiper. The derogatory terms just spread around the campus and those who hear them from others can hardly be called bystanders.' Professor Yip's own research shows that insults, ridiculing people's physical features and ostracism were the most common forms of bullying in Hong Kong. Out of 481 respondents aged between 10 and 28, 134 said they had been bullied at school, and two in five said they had been bullied for between six months and a year. 'Some victims display psychotic symptoms like delusion and hallucination of being persecuted,' he said. 'Some display symptoms of schizophrenia after years of being bullied.'