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Title: Adolescent bullying and intrasexual competition : body concerns and self-promotion tactics amongst bullies, victims and bully-victims
Author: Lee, Kirsty
ISNI:       0000 0004 6348 9886
Awarding Body: University of Warwick
Current Institution: University of Warwick
Date of Award: 2017
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Bullying is ubiquitous and a major cause of psychological distress and disease. While most bullying research investigating the predisposing, precipitating and perpetuating factors has focused on victims, important gaps remain regarding the theoretical drivers of bullying perpetration. Using sexual selection and intrasexual competition as a theoretical framework, researchers have argued that bullying is an evolved behaviour that enables bullies to obtain or maintain a strong position in the social hierarchy and have greater access to resources, including sexual and romantic experiences. Intrasexual competition comprises two key features: competitor derogation and self-promotion. Bullying could be considered as a type of repeated competitor derogation, but the extent to which bullies engage in self-promotion tactics is unknown. As body shape and size are of central importance to males and females in the context of intrasexual competition, the aims of this thesis were: to determine whether body weight or body image independently or jointly predict bullying role; and to examine the extent to which bullies, victims and bully-victims are preoccupied with self-promotion through body alteration, and whether this is related to psychological functioning. A large school-based study (The Bullying, Appearance, Social Information Processing and Emotions Study; The BASE study) of adolescents in the UK was conducted. Study 1 investigated whether body weight or body image (i.e., actual or perceived underweight or overweight) was independently associated with bullying role (bully, victim or bully-victim), and whether body weight and body image interacted to predict bullying role amongst adolescent boys and girls. Study 2 examined whether bullies, victims and bully-victims were at increased risk of weight loss preoccupation compared to adolescents uninvolved in bullying, whether psychological functioning mediated the relationship between bullying role and weight loss preoccupation, and whether sex was a key moderator. Study 3 examined whether bullies, victims and bully-victims had a higher desire for cosmetic surgery compared to adolescents uninvolved in bullying, whether the relationship between bullying role and desire for cosmetic surgery was direct or mediated by psychological functioning, and whether any effects were sex-specific. The findings offer several new contributions to knowledge. Firstly, it was revealed that body image, rather than actual body weight, is associated with being a victim and bully-victim. Bullies were of average weight and were more likely to be at an advanced pubertal status (girls only). Secondly, being a male or female bully was directly associated with increased desire for cosmetic surgery and weight loss preoccupation (boys only). The relationship between being victimised (as a victim or bully-victim) and cosmetic surgery desire and weight loss preoccupation was mostly mediated by reduced psychological functioning. Overall, victims had the highest desire for cosmetic surgery, whilst bully-victims had the highest weight loss preoccupation; there were no significant differences between male and female victims or bully-victims. In conclusion, the findings that male and female adolescent bullies are engaging in or cognizing about self-promotion strategies to improve physical appearance, which was unrelated to psychological functioning, are consistent with the theory of bullying as a form of intrasexual competition. Bullies are thus multi-strategic in their attempt to obtain or maintain social dominance. Bullied adolescents are similarly concerned about their appearance, but this is mostly because of reduced self-esteem, body-esteem and emotional problems as a result of being bullied. Thus, adolescents involved in bullying are at increased likelihood of attempting to alter their physical appearance, albeit via different pathways and with likely different outcomes. The research advances theoretical understanding about bullies and has practical implications for understanding the body concerns and self-promotion tactics of bullies, victims and bully-victims.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: BF Psychology