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November 05, 2013

Relational aggression, victimization, adjustment and the hostile attribution bias

This blog post was written by Jenna Anderson, and is (possibly) the final one to be posted from my current group of dissertation students. Thanks to Jenna for her hard work, and thanks to all the other students who have done similar posts recently.

Ostrov,J. M., & Godleski, S. A. (2013). Relational aggression, victimization, and adjustment during middle childhood. Development and Psychopathology, 25, 801 – 815. [[NB web link here is to full-text of the article]]

This study looked at the direct and indirect links between relational aggression and relational victimisation. Relational aggression refers to behaviours such as excluding individuals or spreading rumours, therefore providing a direct link to similar behaviours in victims of bullying.

Social Process Model
In order to establish the link between relational aggression and relational victimisation, Ostrov and Godleski focused on the Social Process Model. This outlines that aggressive behaviour can lead on to victimisation (this is the direct link), however, it can also be indirectly linked, in which aggression is said to lead to peer rejection, which then leads on to bullying.

Predicted Mediators
Within this study, the authors predicted several factors which they hypothesised would have an indirect effect on the link between relational aggression and relational victimisation.

The first of these factors was loneliness. They highlighted through the use of previous research that loneliness during adolescence can lead to a variety of different problems, such as aggression. Research was also presented which highlighted the link between loneliness and peer victimisation, suggesting that individuals who experience loneliness may be more likely to become victims of bullying. They suggested that they had found enough evidence to justify testing for an indirect link between relational aggression, loneliness and relational victimisation.

The second mediator suggested by the authors was the role of Hostile Attribution Biases (HAB). This relates to when an individual interprets cues from their environment in a negative, hostile way. The research presented suggests that individuals who display relational aggression are more likely to display HAB towards relational provocation, such as excluding someone. This suggests that there may be an indirect link between HAB, aggression and victimisation.

The final mediator suggested was depressive symptoms. They found research which suggests that internalising problems (This refers to when an individual conveys their problems through processes which affect themselves but do not affect others), a core feature of depression, can lead to relational aggression in adolescents. They hypothesised that children who experience symptoms of depression may be more likely to be victimised, which then highlights the link between relational aggression, relational victimisation and depressive symptoms.

Role of Gender
The key gender difference highlighted within this genre of research is that boys are more likely to display physical aggression than relational aggression in comparison with girls, who are more likely to display relational aggression than physical aggression.

There were 1035 participants in the stud, of whom 522 were girls. The average age of the participants was 8 years and 4 months old.

Several methods were used to collect the data. Teacher reports were used to collect data for relational aggression and relational victimisation. A self-report method was used to collect data relating to HAB. A loneliness and dissatisfaction questionnaire was used to measure the loneliness mediator. In order to measure depressive symptoms, a self-report measure was used, in which the children report how they are feeling and in order to obtain data relating to physical aggression, teacher reports were used.


The results of this study highlighted a direct link between relational aggression, and the likelihood that this would lead on to future relational victimisation. It was found that, of the three mediating factors, only loneliness was said to affect the direct link between aggression and victimisation. Despite this, all three mediators were found to be associated with each other, supporting previous research. Interestingly, the researchers also found that the link between relational aggression and relational victimisation could be reversed, suggesting that not only is aggression likely to lead to future victimisation, but victimisation is also likely to lead to future aggression. This study provided support for the direct and indirect aspects of the Social Process Model when applied to relational aggression.

November 04, 2013

Children's perspectives on cyberbullying: definitions, bullies' motives, and help seeking.

Our third blog post today, from one of my dissertation students. Calum Harris prepared this one which relates to cyberbullying. Thanks to Calum, and all the other undergraduate students who have worked hard on these.

Bass,N., de Jong, M. T., & Drossaert, C. C. (2013). Children’s perspectives on cyberbullying: Insights based on participatory research. Cyberpsychology, Behaviour, & Social Networking, 16(4), 248-253.

This study sets out to gain a better insight as to how adolescents describe and perceive cyberbullying. Specifically, the researchers focussed on elementary school children’s perspectives as this age group has been very under sourced so far. To achieve a better view of the children’s perspectives group discussions about cyberbullying with the researcher and children were carried out. The researchers restricted the topics discussed but allowed the children to freely discuss what they wanted within the given topic.

Twenty eight children aged 11-12 years old took part in this study. Seven were taken from 4 different elementary schools, and all participated in the study for 6 weeks. Over these 6 weeks the children and the researchers met up once a week to discuss a specific aspect of cyberbullying. The children were given control over what was discussed, as long as it was within confines of the topic given by the researcher.

Incident and impact
Half the participants reported being bullied and 5 reported bullying others. The main impact mentioned was fear: fear of further cyberbullying, fear of escalation into violence, and fear of the bully’s unknown identity.

Differentiating cyberbullying from innocent pranks
The children noted two characteristics they believed separated cyberbullying from pranks, these being repetition and intention to harm. The researchers note that both of these characteristics do not always work in differentiating cyberbullying from pranks. Many people can watch a harmful youtube video once, but it still causes the bullied individual harm. Judging a person’s intentions is subjective and often ambiguous; one person may see their actions as a joke while another may see them as bullying.

Motives of bullies
An internal drive (e.g., a desire to bully others), negative experiences with the victim (e.g., losing a game against them) and characteristics of the victim (e.g., the victim wearing the “wrong clothes”) were all discussed as motives to bully. It was also decided that each motive did not have to be operate exclusively.

Thresholds for seeking help
Children often said that feelings of shame caused by being cyberbullied were the main reason for not seeking help, especially if they were discouraged from going on the internet by parents in the first place. Further bullying from other students also dissuaded individuals from telling their teacher or parents. The biggest inhibitor however is the fear of having their internet taken away, with some children expressing a vehement need for the technology.

By the end of week 6 all children were against cyberbullying. The majority of children also agreed they would intervene if cyberbullying happened near them, and would know what to do if they themselves were being cyberbullied.

The results of this study support previously found perceptions of cyberbullying, highlighting and better explaining its ambiguous nature. It draws attention to the distressing experience of being bullied by an unknown person, and the trepidation children experience when considering telling a caregiver or parent for fear of them over-reacting.
Overall the results demonstrate the difficulty in defining cyberbullying, and as a consequence the difficulties in dealing with a possible case of cyberbullying as each case is victim to the same level of ambiguity as the definition is. The use of group discussions was found to be good at creating enthusiasm over the topic, however whether it will continue to be able to do so over a longer period of time is unknown. The findings suggest that more information on cyberbullying should be available, and a bullying policy should be made so the children know what to expect if they are bullied, therefore alleviating any trepidation the child may feel over the possible fallout of seeking adult help.

The relationship between rejection sensitivity and both proactive and reactive aggression.

Our second post today, and the fourth from my dissertation students! This interesting contribution is by Rhiannon Harrison.

Jacobs, N., & Harper, B. (2013). The effects of rejection sensitivity on reactive and proactive aggression. Aggressive Behaviour, 39, 3-12.

The authors’ aims were to investigate whether rejection sensitivity (the tendency to expect rejection in social situations) has a relationship with aggressive behaviour in school-aged children, and if so, would the type of aggression (proactive or reactive) differ according to the type of rejection sensitivity (angry or anxious expectations of rejection).

The Rejection Sensitivity Model set out by Feldman and Downey (1994) posits that if someone experiences rejection in early childhood, they may be more likely to expect rejection from others in later life. Furthermore, they may act in a defensively hostile way due to these expectations and may be more likely to think that others are acting in a hostile manner even in ambiguous situations.

The Two-Factor Model of Aggression as suggested by Dodge and Coie (1987) distinguishes two types of aggression and their characteristics. Reactive Aggression (RA) is a 'hot' emotional state which is largely impulsive and a result of a perceived threat which requires defence. Proactive Aggression (PA) on the other hand reflects a 'cold' emotional state and involves planning and manipulation in order to obtain a perceived goal.

The majority of previous research investigating Rejection Sensitivity (RS) had focused on romantic relationships in adulthood, and where previous research had investigated RS and aggression in children, the testing methodology is argued to be the cause of inconsistent and unclear findings. A direct relationship between RS and Reactive Aggression (RA) had not previously been investigated but both were found to hold common relationships with anger and anxiety. It is suggested that if a relationship was found, it could be due to RS causing "hot" emotional states that are often relied upon when defending oneself from a perceived threat. Further the authors state that if RS is directly linked to RA, it also should not be linked with PA which requires planning.

In order to test their hypotheses, these authors recruited 287 children aged between 9 years and 12 years old. All participants were given self-report questionnaires to assess RS, RA and PA. In order to measure RS, hypothetical vignettes were used - these minimise distress for participating children by asking about their rejection sensitivity in an indirect way. This method allowed the researchers to obtain an overall score of rejection sensitivity, as well as individual scores for both angry expectations of rejection and anxious expectations of rejection.

Boys were found to be more likely to participate in general aggression than girls, and more likely to reactively aggress than girls. However, boys were not more likely to engage in proactive aggression than girls. Interestingly, no gender differences were found for RS, and although girls scored higher than boys on anxious expectations of rejection, there were no gender differences found when looking at angry expectations of rejection. In addition, angry expectations of rejection were found to be related to reactive aggression as predicted by the authors. Further still, relationships were found between RS, RA and PA. However the relationship was strongest between RS and RA. Finally, RS was found to predict RA better than PA. Interestingly, angry expectations of rejection were linked with both PA and RA, although anxious expectations of rejection were related to PA but not RA.

In conclusion, the findings of this investigation suggest that the Rejection Sensitivity Model is generalisable to wider populations than previously studied, however, the authors emphasise the need for further investigation, and longitudinal studies are suggested. Lastly, the paper highlights the Importance of interventions which may alleviate RS, RA and PA in school-aged children. This was also the first study to look at differing types of rejection sensitivity and their relationships with the two types of aggression.

Childhood bullying and its impact upon adult health, wealth, and social behavior.

This is the latest in the series of (excellent) blog posts by my dissertation students. This is one by Rachel McDill about a recent publication from Dieter Wolke.

Wolke, D., Copeland, W. E., Angold, A., & Costello, E. J. (2013).  Impact of bullying in childhood on adult health, wealth, crime, and social outcomesPsychological Science, 24(10), 1958-1970.

This study looked at the links between experiences of childhood bullying and impact on adult life; specifically examining the effect of bullying roles (victim, bully-victim, bully) and duration of bullying on a range of outcomes in adulthood, including health, wealth, risky or illegal behaviour, and social outcomes. 

A total of 1273 participants took part in the present study, these individuals came from 3 cohorts of children originally recruited in 1993 from Western North Carolina whilst aged 9, 11 & 13 years old.  Participants were assessed annually until age 16 and subsequently followed up at ages 19, 21 and 24-26 years old.

At each childhood assessment (aged 9-16) children reported whether or not they had been bullied or teased, and whether they had bullied others within the 3 months prior to the assessment.  Children were then classified as victims only (never reporting having bullied others), bullies only (never reported that they had been bullied by others), bully-victims (reported that they had both bullied and been bullied by others), or not involved in bullying.  Children were classified as ‘chronic victims’ if they reported being bullied at more than one assessment.
Outcomes in young adulthood were assessed by interview, with the exception of risky or illegal behaviours, some of which were assessed by access to criminal records.

Bullying Role in Childhood and Adult Outcomes
Once adjusted to take account of childhood psychiatric problems and family hardship, results show that being a victim or bully-victim in childhood predicted poorer health, wealth and social relationships in adulthood (with the largest impairment being found in the bully-victim group).  Bullies were found not to be at increased risk of poorer adult outcomes than those not involved at all.  Involvement in bullying was not found to predict risky or illegal behaviours.

Chronicity of Peer Victimization and Adult Outcomes
When participants who had been chronically bullied as children (2 or more times throughout assessment) were compared to those who were neither bullies nor victims, it was found that the likelihood of having financial and social problems was higher in the chronically bullied.  When the chronically bullied were compared to those bullied no more than once, levels of social problems were significantly higher and a trend towards more financial problems was seen.

So, both bullying role and number of instances of bullying in childhood seem to impact in adulthood.  What’s particularly interesting about this study is that by controlling for psychiatric problems and family hardship, many of the links found in previous literature (such as those that suggest that victimisation is a marker for other psychological problems) were diminished yet still present, thereby strengthening the evidence for the direct effects found here.  It seems that there is some unique effect, unrelated to other childhood psychological issues, of being bullied which impacts significantly on adult functioning.

The types of adult problems observed in this study represent large costs to both the individual and society, therefore highlighting even further the need for intervention in cases of childhood bullying.  Bullying can have lasting negative effects; it is not the ‘harmless rite of passage’ it may seem to some.

October 24, 2013

Predicting homophobic behaviour at an individual and social level.

This is the second review to be completed by one of my current final year dissertation students. Many thanks to Stephanie Donoghue for reviewing this recent article on homophobia.

This study examined possible predictors of students’ engaging in verbal use of homophobic behaviour. Individual measures of empathy, perspective taking and classroom respect were three domain general factors looked at in the belief that individuals scoring low on these would be more likely to engage in homophobic behaviour. Importance of identity, number of sexual minority friends, parents’ sexual minority attitudes and messages in the media were all examined under sexual orientation specific factors as influenced by the broader social context. In the present research, prejudice and bullying were also assessed to examine whether their presence had a strengthening effect or reduced the relationship between domain general factors and sexual orientation specific factors in predicting homophobic behaviour.  

These authors recruited 618 high school students, 9th to 12th grade (around 14-17 years old) to take part in the study. Students were required to complete survey questions relating to both general and specific factors and homophobic behaviour over the preceding 30 days.

Multiple domain general factors:
Lower scores on empathy were seen to be associated more strongly with prejudiced behaviour and lower scores on perspective taking was associated more so with bullying. However both of these factors had significant indirect effects in predicting students’ engaging in homophobic behaviour. Such findings support the cognitive nature of bullying: specifically, that lack of empathy and perspective taking can result in higher levels of bullying, prejudice and homophobic behaviour. 

Sexual orientation specific factors:
Sexual orientation identity predicted stronger sexual prejudice and homophobic behaviour. This supports social identity theory whereby in-group members engage in behaviour that differentiates themselves from the out-group minority to consolidate their belonging to the sexual majority. Being friends with young people from sexual minorities was not associated with homophobic behaviour but did predict lower levels of prejudice, thus supporting the theory that being in contact with minority groups may lower intolerance. Finally, results indicated that parents’ attitudes toward members of sexual minorities had an effect on whether young people engaged in homophobic behaviour. However, contrary to the belief that positive media portrayals change behaviour, images in the media did not (in a roundabout way) predict homophobic behaviour.

These results suggest that it is important not to isolate one reason in examining causes behind homophobic behaviour. Instead, this study examined multiple factors in combination. Results suggest that although homophobic behaviour has been shown to be a manifestation of both prejudice and bullying, there are other fundamental factors converging to predict involvement in this type of behaviour.

Interestingly, these results indicated that media images did not predict homophobic behaviour in students. This may shed light on the important role that peers and parents play in engaging with homophobic behaviour. On the other hand, the measure used here could be viewed as being problematic because the role of media was examined using only one question. More of a thorough analysis might have been achieved if the researchers had developed more detailed questions.

The current research points towards ways of combating or countering the use of homophobic language used as banter in the school environment by suggesting that more can be done by both teachers in the classroom and parents at home to open up and speak more about respect towards members of sexual minorities.

October 21, 2013

Recalled victimization, social support, and long term effects on self-criticism.

This post is by one of my current final year dissertation students, Gillian Scanlan. Thanks to Gillian for summarising this paper, she did a great job.

Kopala-Sibley, D. C., Zuroff, D. C., Leybman, M. J., & Hope, N. (2013). Recalled peer relationship experiences and current levels of self-criticism and self-reassurancePsychology and Psychotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice, 86, 33-51.

This study set out to identify if recalled levels of parental support, peer support and peer victimization were related to college students’ levels of self-criticism and self-reassurance in their present life. The researchers were specifically interested in whether the effects upon young adults of being bullied from the ages of 10-14 were different according to their levels of recalled social support from both parents and peers.

This study involved 200 college students aged 18 to 25 years old. Participants were given a series of questionnaires that measured current levels of self-criticism as well as recalled relationships with parents and peers. The recalled relationship with parents and peers were to be reported specifically when the participants were between the ages of 10-14.

Victimization and Prosocial Behaviour: Men recalled experiencing higher levels of physical victimization, e.g. being hit or punched by another peer, than women did.  Women reported that their peers showed more acts of kindness and concern for them when they were bullied.

Parental support: Increased level of support from both parents was found to be associated with lower levels of self-hating and reduced feelings of unworthiness. Increased support from parents also increased confidence and self-assurance of a victim. Those who recalled higher current levels of maternal care or higher levels of kindness and concern reported higher levels of self-assurance.

Roles of peer relationships: Those who recalled more physical victimization (regardless of gender) reported higher levels of self-criticism, self-hate and lower levels of self-assurance. People who recalled experiencing more kindness and concern from peers during a bullying incident in childhood reported lower levels of self-hatred and higher levels of self-reassurance in their current life.

These results are interesting as it appears that the increased social support a person receives in both their home environment and their peer environment helps to create feelings of positivity and self-assurance, thus allowing a confident young adult to emerge. The results furthermore show that low social support from both parents when being victimized can have long term psychological effects upon a person’s emotional well-being when they get into adulthood.


Overall, this study highlights the importance of good peer relationships and parental care. It would appear from the findings that having kind and supportive peers and parents from childhood plays an integral role in helping to reduce the stress of negative social events. 

June 12, 2013

Context specific characteristics of bullying incidents associated with feelings of humiliation, worry, and physical symptomatology

Nishina, A. (2012). Microcontextual characteristics of peer victimization experiences and adolescents’ daily wellbeing. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 41, 191-201.

This study set out to examine whether “microcontextual factors” of peer victimisation were related to young people’s reports of humiliation, worry, and physical symptomatology. “Microcontextual factors” are factors specific to an individual victimisation incident. These may vary considerably across a series of victimisation experiences. The author was particularly interested in the effects of how many aggressors were present (one or many), whether there were witnesses to the event, and whether the young person received help on days that they reported being victimised.

Dr Nishina recorded incidents of victimisation using a daily diary methodology. She got 150 6th graders (around 11 years old) and 150 9th graders (around 14 years old) to complete diaries on 5 days across a two week period.

Number of aggressors: When young people experienced victimisation at the hands of a single aggressor, there was no change in their reported levels of humiliation on those days. However, there was an increase in humiliation when victimised by multiple peers. For worry, victimisation by a single aggressor predicted an increase in worry for boys but not girls.

Presence of witnesses: Humiliation increased when victimisation was witnessed but not when it was private. Worry increased on days where there were experiences of private victimisation. Worry also increased as a consequence of public victimisation, but only among boys.

Receipt of help: Humiliation increased on days where there was victimisation but no help, and no change in humiliation when there was help. Worry only increased on victimisation days when boys DID get help (there was no variation in the relationship between worry and victimisation according to levels of help for girls). There was no difference in physical symptoms according to levels of help received.

These are interesting results. They indicate that while most researchers (myself included) summarise the effects of bullying and peer victimisation in a more ‘blunt’ manner (averaging across a number of incidents to get an overall picture), there are important effects which are specific to characteristics of individual bullying episodes.

Some of these results make intuitive sense, for example, that humiliation increases when there are more witnesses or more aggressors. Other results suggest that the short-term benefits of common antibullying strategies may not all be positive, i.e. getting help can increase worry for boys. Why might this be the case? In my own work (Hunter et al., 2004), I found that there were no significant differences in who boys and girls turned to for help, so perhaps the important point here is how they use the help that they seek out.