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A social goals perspective on bullying in schools

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posted on 2023-06-07, 15:50 authored by David A Smalley
Contrasting approaches to explaining the social-cognitive contributors to bullying in schools have stressed the importance of a child‘s social goals in determining whether he or she will bully. In spite of this, the social goals of bullies and victims have not been adequately investigated in empirical research. This thesis aimed to address this issue by investigating the social goals associated with bullying/victimisation, determining whether these goals were able to predict bullying/victimisation even after other social processing biases and theory of mind had been taken into account, and considering the influence social goals have on children‘s response to provocation. In a series of six studies, 583 children from Primary schools in the UK completed several measures aimed at assessing their engagement in behaviours related to bullying and being victimised, their social goals (both as general interpersonal goals and also specific to hypothetical social scenarios), and other social-cognitive factors (including theory of mind). Although the pattern of results across studies was not always uniform, there was a general trend for bullying in boys to be associated with situation-specific goals that protected their physical dominance within their peer group, while bullying in girls was better predicted by an overall concern for maintaining an image of popularity. Interestingly, victimisation in boys was predicted by an inappropriate concern for others‘ feelings in certain scenarios, while victimisation in girls was associated with a low level of concern for behaving prosocially. Importantly, these kinds of social goals remained predictive of bullying and victimisation even after controlling for variance accounted for by theory of mind and other social information processing biases. Finally, social goals were found to mediate the relationship between bullying/victimisation and aggressive/submissive response strategies. Findings are discussed in relation to the existing literature as well as to their potential impact on intervention strategies.


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  • Psychology Theses

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  • doctoral

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  • dphil


  • eng


University of Sussex

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