What is the study about?
In short, this study investigates the personality characteristics and psychological symptoms of Greek University students who self-report cyber-bullying participation- as bullies, victims, or bully-victims.
What would be the most important take-home messages from the study?
Although most studies focus on cyber-bullying among children and adolescents, this study shows that cyber-bullying is an existing problem among University students as well. According to the results of the study, 58.4% of the sample had participated in a cyber-bullying incident assuming any role. It is interesting that most students who participated in the phenomenon assumed the cyber-bully/victim role, which means that they both exhibited and experienced cyber-bullying behaviors during the month prior to the study.
In general, cyber-bullying behavior was predicted by high Internet use, lack of social skills, high depressive symptoms, and tendencies for sensation seeking, but mostly by high scores in specific antisocial personality traits such as callousness/unemotionality and impulsiveness/irresponsibility. Cyber-victimization was predicted by gender (male), low social skills, high impulsive/irresponsible traits, high depression and high Internet use, with the best predictor being poor social skills.
How are these findings important in practice?
With this knowledge, Universities could become more active towards preventing cyber-bullying, which create an unhealthy learning environment with potentially negative long-term effects. The fact that University students who participate in cyber-bullying tend to adopt the cyber-bully/victim role, indicates that due to the nature of the Information and Communication Technologies (ICT), and probably due to the online disinhibition effect, it is easier for them to retaliate for aggressive acts aimed towards them. Also, some of the participants may not consider aggressive behaviors through the ICT as harmful, but as a normal part of the social interactions with their peers. University authorities could aim at the prevention of the incidents through proper ICT use, by including appropriate online social conduct in the University syllabus, and with the thorough expression of the institution’s expectations regarding student conduct both on- and off-campus. For example, cyber-bully/victims should be provided with policies and procedures that protect them from cyber-bullying but also sent a clear message regarding the unacceptability of retaliation.
In line with previous research in the field of (face-to-face) bullying, students of this study with high antisocial personality traits and sensation seeking tendencies were more likely to exhibit cyber-bullying behaviors. The Internet may provide sensation seekers with the novelty and excitement they desire, but may also amplify the indifference of students with high callous-unemotional traits towards others’ feelings. University activities that provide students with an outlet for the stimulation and excitement they need through socially acceptable interactions could help towards the prevention of the phenomenon.
It is also interesting that students who participated in cyber-bullying as bullies, victims, or both, had low social skills, increased depressive symptoms and used the Internet more frequently. Although cyber-bullying participants may not manifest active psychopathology, they may benefit from institutional initiatives that help them with their transition to tertiary education which implicates academic obligations, and frequently moving away from home and leading an autonomous life. All these changes may be especially challenging for students who struggle in terms of social interactions, and counseling services aimed at social skills training, efficient and appropriate ways of expressing disagreement and anger, may be helpful, especially to freshmen. Students referred for counseling regarding other problems (i.e. depressive or aggressive symptoms, complaints about academic-related stress or psychological distress related to interpersonal problems), may have higher chances of participating in cyber-bullying, which usually deteriorate their social and emotional difficulties. In the case of cyber-bully/victims, the most problematic group, counseling psychologists may apply techniques which aim towards the development of empathy, problem-solving skills, and assertiveness, as well as teach relaxation techniques.
What other studies can be recommended to further an understanding/application of the findings?
Further research could investigate in depth the participants’ characteristics through longitudinal studies and provide an empirical basis for the development of the prevention and intervention programs, and, finally, assess their effectiveness.
Kokkinos, C. M., Antoniadou, N., & Markos, A. (2014). Cyber-bullying: An investigation of the psychological profile of university student participants. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 35, 204-214.
Link to the original paper
- American Psychiatric Association (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.
- Joinson, A. (2007). Oxford handbook of internet psychology. Oxford University Press.
- Suler, J. (2004). The online disinhibition effect. CyberPsychology & Behavior, 7, 321-326.
- Wankel, L. A., & Wankel, C. (Eds.). (2012). Misbehavior online in higher education (Vol. 5). Emerald Group Publishing.
Nafsika Antoniadou is a doctoral student in the department of Primary Education, Democritus University of Thrace, Greece and her PhD thesis regards the psychosocial and emotional profile of Greek students participating in cyber-bullying and traditional bullying incidents. Her research interests include the study of cyberbullying, and traditional bullying/victimization.
Angelos Markos is an assistant professor in the department of Primary Education, Democritus University of Thrace, Greece. His interests include multivariate data analysis, and he contributes methodologically and statistically to various areas in the social and behavioral sciences, especially in psychological testing.