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Aggression and Cyberbullying: An International Comparison

By — Bullying Special Edition Contributor
Updated on Mar 22, 2011

Cyberbullying mirrors the actions of bullying, but through the use of technology such as the internet and cell phones. The negative impacts on victims of cyberbullying are comparable to those who experience more traditional types of bullying. Not only has cyberbullying grown quickly in the United States, but countries all over the world are now dealing with this problem.

One issue regarding cyberbullying is that research is just starting to be conducted to identify the potential common factors between cyberbullying and more traditional types of bullying. One of those factors is aggression and what function aggression plays in cyberbullying. There are typically two types of aggression that focus on the function of bullying. They are proactive and reactive aggression.

  • Proactive aggression: the use of aggression to achieve a goal. The following scenario highlights the use of proactive aggression by a student.

For example, April is a middle school student who has a crush on a boy in school. Her best friend, Mandy, has told her recently that she also has crush on the boy and is thinking about asking him out on a date. April can’t believe that Mandy would like the same boy and decides something has to be done. April uses Mandy’s e-mail account password and sends sexually suggestive e-mails to all of the male students at school under Mandy’s e-mail account. Everyone assumes Mandy sent the message and Mandy’s reputation plunges. This allows April to eliminate the competition for the boy’s affection.

  • Reactive aggression: the use of aggression as a form of defense. The following scenario highlights the use of reactive aggression by a student.

For example, Mandy finds out that April was the one that broke into her e-mail account and sent the e-mails to the male students. Mandy decides to start sending anonymous threatening IMs and text messages to April. Mandy’s goal is to get back at April so she will stop spreading rumors and try to salvage her tarnished reputation.

As can be seen with the two scenarios, cyberbullying can possibly occur with both proactive and reactive aggression. The question is whether one type of aggression is more prevalent in cyberbullying and whether the type of aggression is influenced by culture or if it is more universal in application.

Our research study sought to answer these questions by asking several hundred middle school students from the United States and Singapore questions regarding proactive and reactive aggression and cyberbullying behaviors. What we found in the two samples were:

  • In the United States, 17.9% of the students were involved in cyberbullying with 16.8%
  • being classified as infrequent cyberbullies and 1.1% classified as frequent cyberbullies.
  • In Singapore, 16.4% of the students were involved in cyberbullying with 15.1% classified as infrequent cyberbullies and 1.3% classified as frequent bullies.
  • For cyberbullies in the United States, the use of proactive aggression in general was a significant predictor of cyberbullying while the use of reactive aggression in general was not a good predictor of cyberbullying.
  • For cyberbullies in Singapore there were similar findings as those in the United States where the use of proactive aggression in general was a significant predictor of cyberbullying while the use of reactive aggression in general was not a good predictor of cyberbullying.

Our findings indicated that there is a strong relationship between proactive aggression and cyberbullying across two different cultures. This hints at a possible universal aspect of cyberbullying where cyberbullies tend to use aggression for a goal rather than to use cyberbullying for defense.

Dan Florell, Ph.D. is an assistant professor in school psychology at Eastern Kentucky University in Richmond, KY. His research interests focus on developmental issues in adolescence regarding factors that influence cyberbullying, bullying on the bus, and professional issues in school psychology. He can be contacted by e-mail at dan.florell@eku.edu, and more information about his research can be found at http://people.eku.edu/florelld/research.php.

Rebecca P. Ang, Ph.D. is an associate professor at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. Her research interests revolve around developmental psychopathology including child/adolescent aggression and bullying, and related interventions. She can be contacted by email at rpang@ntu.edu.sg.

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