Cyber bullying has become more common with advances in technology. Messages can be posted on social networking websites, and pictures can be downloaded, altered, and made available to the world in seconds. Although there has been abundant research into the consequences of cyber bullying and traditional bullying, little has been done to determine which type may cause more psychological damage. It is well established that bullying itself—the act of terrorizing, intimidating, and ridiculing another through verbal or physical acts—can have numerous deleterious effects.
Those who endure bullying are at increased risk for internalizing problems such as anxiety, depression, and suicide ideation. Understanding how each type of bullying impacts young people is of critical importance in order to target those most vulnerable and help them deal with the ramifications. To get a better idea of the effects of cyber bullying in comparison to traditional bullying, Sheri Bauman of the University of Arizona’s College of Education recently conducted a study asking college students to rate their levels of distress based on hypothetical cyber and traditional bullying scenarios. The scenarios were similar in nature and differed only in delivery.
Bauman discovered that three main bullying themes emerged, including generalized bullying, name calling, and sexual victimization through explicit sexual images. Although the female participants reported higher levels of distress for all three types of bullying, the method of delivery did not impact emotional response. Specifically, although their responses varied by bullying scenario, all participants reported similar distress levels whether the bullying event was traditional in nature or cyber bullying.
However, Bauman found that one type of bullying was the most distressing. “We … found that bullying with sexual material, whether conventionally or by technological methods, is the most upsetting kind of incident to targets,” she said. This was especially true for female participants. Those with a history of victimization had higher distress than those without. In sum, Bauman believes that these findings demonstrate that it may not be the delivery method of bullying behavior that is most detrimental to young people, but rather the content of the message conveyed.
Bauman, S., Newman, M. L. (2012). Testing assumptions about cyber bullying: Perceived distress associated with acts of conventional and cyber bullying. Psychology of Violence. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0029867
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