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Title: The social and emotional profiles of adolescent bullies, victims, and bully-victims
Author: Guy, Alexa
ISNI:       0000 0004 7227 7535
Awarding Body: University of Warwick
Current Institution: University of Warwick
Date of Award: 2017
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Peer bullying is a highly prevalent issue for children and adolescents worldwide. There is now convincing evidence that bullying has adverse consequences for physical, psychological, social, and emotional health that last throughout adolescence and into adulthood. Despite heightened efforts to prevent and tackle bullying, the factors that motivate this behaviour, and may predispose individuals to being either the perpetrators or victims of bullying remain partly unclear. With focus on the perpetration of bullying, one possible motivation described by resource control theories, is the pursuit of social dominance and enhancing status within the peer group. Bullies have been described as popular although controversial in their social acceptance. However there has been little exploration of how this group compares to victimised adolescents, and in particular to those who are concurrently victimised and bully others (bully-victims). Differences in sociometric outcomes between bullies and bully-victims, or between these perpetration roles and those who are ‘pure’ victims or uninvolved, may be explained by differences in social-cognitive and emotional attributes. Bullies were historically portrayed as socially incompetent and thought to show deficiencies in their emotional functioning. However the strategic and manipulative behaviour of bullies suggests that this group may be relatively skilled in their processing of social information and understanding of others. It may be bully-victims who display the most deficiencies in their social and emotional functioning, and this may be fundamental in explaining their failure to gain the same social status as bullies. Three studies were conducted, in which adolescents were first screened for bullying involvement using both self-reports and peer-nominations, and completed measures for behavioural problems, self-esteem, and peer-reported sociometric status. Participants were assigned to a bullying role (bully, bully-victim, victim or uninvolved), and a sub- sample of participants were assessed on abilities in the early stages of social information processing (encoding and interpretation) and emotional attributes (empathy, callous-unemotional traits, and affective instability). Study one investigated differences between the bullying roles on levels of social impact, social acceptance, and perceived popularity. It was found that all adolescents involved in bullying had higher social impact than those uninvolved. Bullies had the highest levels of perceived popularity, whereas bully-victims, like victims, scored low on perceived popularity and had the lowest levels of social acceptance. Additionally, bullying role made the greatest contribution compared to other demographic and individual characteristics in predicting all aspects of sociometric status. Study two explored the differences in abilities between the bullying roles on the encoding and interpretation stages of social information. There were no differences found between the groups with regards to emotion recognition abilities (encoding), however the victimised groups exhibited the most interpretation biases. Bully-victims showed the most hostile attribution biases, whereas victims endorsed more characterological self-blame attributions. Bullies showed no differences to uninvolved adolescents in their accuracy for encoding and interpreting social information. Finally study three investigated whether those involved in bullying showed differences in emotional traits and attributes. Those who were victimised, i.e., victims and bully- victims, had high levels of affective instability, and bully-victims also had the lowest levels of empathy and the most callous-unemotional traits. Bullies also had high levels of callous-unemotional traits, however showed no differences to the uninvolved group on any other emotional measure. In conclusion, bullies were associated with the most positive attributes across the measures of sociometric status, and did not differ in social information processing and emotional attributes from those uninvolved in bullying; however they were found to be callous-unemotional. This supports resource control approaches in suggesting that bullying is used to acquire dominance in the peer group, which in turn reinforces the bullying behaviour. Bullies’ social and emotional skills, in combination with being callous in pursuit of social status, may account for the ability to successfully use a combination of coercive and prosocial strategies to gain this social dominance. If bullies experience such social rewards, i.e., increased popularity, their behaviour will ultimately be more difficult to change. In contrast, bully-victims showed low sociometric status, showed the most interpretation biases, and the most negative emotional attributes. These adolescents are likely to represent the ineffective aggressors whose poor social skills, reactive behaviour, and dysregulated emotional style, explains their lack of success in gaining social dominance, along with their increased victimisation and rejection by peers. Interventions should target the whole peer group in reducing the social rewards received by bullies and encourage prosocial means for enhancing social status. Social hierarchies in schools should also be addressed to increase the status of those who are victimised and provide the social support needed to reduce victimisation. Finally, interventions may benefit from considering the emotional traits and processing biases that increase the risk of involvement in bullying, and may ultimately influence the outcomes of those involved.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: BF Psychology