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Robert Thornberg


School bullying occurs every day but students seldom act as defenders. Social and individual processes can easily disengage moral standards. To prevent bullying, knowledge of these processes is necessary. This is my research focus. 


Robert Thornberg is a Professor of Education at the Department of Behavioural Sciences, Linköping University. He earned his Ph.D. in Educational Research 2006. His current research is on school bullying, especially with a focus on social and moral processes involved in bullying, bystander rationales, reactions and actions, and students' perspectives and explanations.

His second line of research is on values education including morals, norms, and student participation in everyday school life. A third line of research is on teacher education, especially student teachers' motives to become a teacher and their experiences of distressed situations during teacher training. Thornberg uses a range of research methods including qualitative interviews and focus groups, questionnaires and psychometric scales, ethnographic fieldwork, cross-sectional and longitudinal designs, grounded theory, and statistical methods."

Areas of Expertise

Risk and protective factors associated with school bullying

Social psychology of school bullying

Moral agency and disengagement in relation to school bullying and the bystander position in school bullying

Students’ perceptions of why bullying happens and why different bystander actions take place 

Values education in everyday school life

Grounded theory and its constructivist turn

Research Interests

Bullying and bystander behaviours, and their associations with individual and collective moral disengagement, self-efficacy, collective efficacy, and moral emotions

Bullying and moral reasoning

Bullying and bystander behaviours, and their associations with classroom climate, with a particular focus on teacher-student relationships and student-student relationships

Motivational factors associated with defender, passive bystander, and pro-bully behaviour when witnessing bullying

The social interaction patterns of school bullying, normative discourses, and social constructions of the involved students

Students’ perspectives on and explanations of bullying and different bystander behaviours in bullying

Teachers’ and student teachers’ perspectives on values education

Emotional distressful learning situations at teacher and medical education

Students’ perceptions of school rules



Camilla Forsberg, Paul Horton, Robert Thornberg (2024) How school-built factors and organisational dimensions contribute to bodily exposure, degrading treatment and bullying in school changing rooms Sport, Education and Society Continue to DOI
Henrik Lindqvist, Maria Weurlander, Linda Barman, Annika Wernerson, Robert Thornberg (2024) Mentor teachers' descriptions of preferred actions related to scenarios describing emotionally challenging episodes in work-based learning Mentoring & Tutoring Continue to DOI
Björn Sjögren, Robert Thornberg, Tiziana Pozzoli (2024) Reciprocal longitudinal associations of defender self-efficacy with defending and passive bystanding in peer victimization Psychology in the schools (Print) Continue to DOI
Robert Thornberg, Björn Sjögren, Gianluca Gini, Tiziana Pozzoli (2024) Testing the reciprocal longitudinal association between pro-aggressive bystander behavior and diffusion of responsibility in Swedish upper elementary school students Social Psychology of Education, Vol. 27, p. 215-235 Continue to DOI


Paul Horton, Camilla Forsberg, Robert Thornberg (2023) Mobbningsarenor: en socioekologisk undersökning av skolmobbning Resultatdialog 2023, p. 60-64


Research networks 

  • Nordic Educational Research Association (Board Member)
  • Bullying Research Network (BRNET)
  • The NERA Network 7: Value Issues and Social Relations in Education (Convenor)
  • Swedish Educational Research AssociationFriends nationella nätverk för mobbningsforskare
  • Children’s Identity and Citizenship in EuropeNationellt nätverk for forskning om barns och ungas rättigheter i utbildning 



  • Member of the Doctoral Educational Board of the Faculty of Educational Sciences, Linköping University
  • International research faculty member of the Center for Research on School Safety, School Climate and Classroom Management, at the College of Education, Georgia State University, Atlanta, U.S.
  • Board member of the Nordic Educational Research Association (NERA)
  • Member of the Editor Board of the journal Nordic Studies in Education
  • Coordinator for the NERA Network of Value Issues and Social Relations in Education


boy being tripped by bullies

The Social and Moral Processes of Bullying - a four-year longitudinal study

Focusing on the interplay between individual and contextual factors will help us to better understand bullying, the reasons for bullying and different bystander behaviour.

mobbad pojke vid tegelvägg, ensam

Bullying and Morality

Moral reasoning, moral disengagement and self-efficacy when it comes to defending bullying victims are all variables affecting a bullying situation. Depending on these, bullying situations and the outcome of them can look very different.

pupil being bullied in elementary school

Understanding the Ecological Factors Associated with Bullying

Changes across the transition to middle school in early adolescents’ relations to school and their teachers are predictive of changes in bullying.

My Division