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Bullying in schools : how children think, feel, and respond Funke, Kirstin A.

Abstract

Research has frequently documented significant associations between empathy and behaviour. Typically, empathy has been found to be higher in individuals who behave prosocially, and lower in individuals who behave aggressively. Extending this research, the present study examined links between empathy and bullying/victimization behavior, with particular interest in whether children who behave differently in the face of bullying (i.e., assume different participant roles) differ in the nature of empathy they experience. To this end, 409 students (210 females, 199 males) from grades 5 to 7 completed both peer-nominations and self-reports of various bullying participant role behaviours, as well as self-reports of tendencies to experience various facets of empathy. Results revealed that self-reports of empathic concern (i.e., empathy in the form of concern for others), and perspective-taking (i.e., empathy in the form of understanding others' perspectives) were significantly lower in children nominated by peers for roles that supported bullying, as compared to children who assumed roles that defended against or stayed away from bullying or who were victims of bullying. No significant differences were observed among participant roles for empathic distress (i.e., empathy in the form of personal distress). This pattern was evident regardless of whether more generic or dispositional forms of empathy were considered, or whether more specific forms of empathy in response to bullying situations were considered. Overall, females reported higher levels of all facets of empathy than males. Given these findings, empathy appears to be an important distinguishing factor among children who behave differently within bullying situations. In order to encourage children's prosocial responses to bullying, and discourage behaviours that support bullying, empathy appears to be an important variable to target in designing anti-bullying programs for schools.

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