Electronic Bullying and Aggression in Adolescents

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Murphy, Ashley
Electronic Bullying , Electronic Aggression , Cyber Bullying , Cyber Aggression , Harm Perceptions , Social Cognitive
Bullying is a pervasive problem in schools, but more recent attention has been given to bullying that takes place via electronic media. To study electronic bullying and aggression effectively research needs to consider the unique qualities of the electronic medium including its capacity for anonymity, disinhibition, public forum, and under-regulated content. Electronic bullying does not occur in isolation; therefore it must be studied in relation to peer processes that occur in the “real world.” Research has neither uncovered the potential “real world” precursors of electronic bullying and aggression nor has it uncovered how students perceive the harmfulness of electronic aggression. The two studies presented here fill these gaps in the literature. The first study examined the precursors of electronic bullying and victimization in a sample of grade 9 and 10 students who were followed longitudinally. Students were administered questionnaires assessing electronic bullying/victimization, perceived harm of electronic aggression, empathy, normative beliefs, and prosocial behavior. The results indicated that “real world” behaviors such as verbal bullying and prosocial behavior were precursors of electronic bullying, while victimization by social bullying and social aggression were precursors for electronic victimization. In addition, females, older students, and students with less prosocial behavior were at risk for involvement in electronic bullying. Implications for these findings include the importance of integrating interventions that foster positive behavior in the “real world” and online, particularly for students at highest risk for involvement. The second study examined students’ harm perceptions of electronic aggression and how similar behavioral and cognitive factors may also influence perceptions of electronic aggression. Cross-sectional data were collected from students in grades 7 through 9 who were administered the same questionnaires above. Electronic bullying was perceived as more harmful than physical and social aggression, particularly for girls and students with highly prosocial behavior. Thus, electronic aggression is a very serious issue for students and education is needed to change the social norms for acceptable behavior in cyberspace. Consistent with social-cognitive theory, similar demographics and behaviors predicted electronic behavior and perceptions. Future research should continue to extend the social-cognitive model to electronic conflict.
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