Thursday 16 March 2017

Female cyberbullies and victims feel the most negative about school and learning, study shows

The study shows how cyberbullying undermines young people's peer relationships
The study shows how cyberbullying undermines young people's peer relationships

With the increasing amount of time they spend using digital technology, young people are at great risk of being involved in cyberbullying
Dr Lucy Betts, Nottingham Trent University

Involvement in cyberbullying among girls triggers negative perceptions of the importance of school and the value of learning, a new Nottingham Trent University study suggests.

Psychologists, writing in the Springer journal Sex Roles , found that 11-15 year-old girls who were most involved in cyberbullying – as perpetrator, victim, or both – felt the least accepted by their peers. This then had a knock-on effect of spilling over into how important they felt school and learning were, the researchers found.

The sending and receiving of offensive, threatening, derogatory and often victimising content on social media is on the rise among young people. This can include sending around unchecked gossip and compromising or humiliating photographs of others.

Researchers argue that cyberbullying can be extremely damaging and cause a great deal of stress for young people given its potential to occur around the clock.

A total of 345 male and female pupils took part in the study. The pupils completed questionnaires which measured levels of cyberbullying involvement – such as sending and receiving threatening or offensive comments, rumours and the sharing of images or videos – over the last three months. Perceived acceptance by peers and perception of the importance of school and learning were also measured.

The researchers found that females who reported the highest levels of involvement in cyberbullying felt the least accepted by the peers. This perception of their peers then predicted how they felt about school and learning generally. In terms of males, only boys who had been involved in cyberbullying as both bully and victim felt more negatively about school and learning, the study found.

Females who felt the least accepted felt more negatively about school and learning, while those who felt more accepted were more positive. The more acceptance girls received from the peers, the more likely they were to shrug off the effects of cyberbullying and enjoy school, and the less likely they were to participate in virtual attacks.

This finding contributes to a growing body of evidence about how involvement in cyberbullying undermines young people’s peer relationships.

“With the increasing amount of time they spend using digital technology, young people are at great risk of being involved in cyberbullying – as a victim, bully, or both,” said Nottingham Trent University psychologist Dr Lucy Betts, lead researcher of the study.

She said: “In the past, bullying experiences were often confined to school and would end with the school day. Despite cyberbullying occurring outside the school environment, however, we know that its impact is likely to spill over into school and this is particularly the case for young women.

“Our findings highlight that stressors outside the school grounds can have a negative impact on how young women perceive school. This is worrying, as previous studies have shown that young people who experience cyberbullying are more likely to avoid school,” she continued.

“Our work also contributes to the growing evidence that involvement in cyberbullying undermines peer relationships and highlights the importance of these relationships upon attitudes towards learning and school for young women.”

The study was funded by the British Academy, the UK’s national body for the humanities and social sciences.



Notes to editors:

Betts, L. et al. (2017). Adolescents' Involvement in Cyber Bullying and Perceptions of School: The Importance of Perceived Peer Acceptance for Female Adolescents, Sex Roles, DOI: 10.1007/s11199-017-0742-2

 The British Academy for the humanities and social sciences. Established by Royal Charter in 1902. Its purpose is to inspire and support high achievement in the humanities and social sciences throughout the UK and internationally, and to promote their public value. For more information, please visit Follow the British Academy on Twitter @britac_news.

Nottingham Trent University’s five-year strategic plan Creating the University of the Future has five main ambitions: Creating Opportunity, Valuing Ideas, Enriching Society, Connecting Globally and Empowering People.

The Queen's Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education was awarded to Nottingham Trent University in November 2015.  It is the highest national honour for a UK university and recognises the institution’s world-class research. Pioneering projects to improve weapons and explosives detection in luggage, enable safer production of powdered infant formula, and combat food fraud, led to the prestigious award.

Press enquiries please contact Dave Rogers, Senior Press Officer, Nottingham Trent University, on telephone +44 (0)115 848 8782 or via email, or Helen Breese, Senior Press Officer, on telephone +44 (0)115 848 8751 or via email

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