Motivation and emotion/Book/2015/Bullying and pack behavior motivation in adolescents

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Bullying and pack behavior motivation in adolescents:
What motivates adolescents to participate in group bullying?

Overview[edit | edit source]

Figure 1. A group bullying occurrence.

Rarely is bullying conducted by a single individual. Most commonly when bullying occurs it is done as a group of people with the state of mind to hurt an individual that doesn't fit in with either their beliefs or social values. Bullying can be defined in many ways however a couple of stand out definitions are:

  1. Bullying is aggression that works via a relationship between individuals of power and abuse (Rodkin, Espelage & Hanish, 2015).
  2. Bullying is the victimisation of an individual that causes them harm. This harm can be either emotional, physical or contain aspects of both (Hartley, 2015).

The goal of this chapter is to educate about bullying between adolescents, with adolescence being defined as young people being between the ages of 10 and 19 years (Sinyor, 2014). This is the most commonly used age range in research for adolescents. Furthermore, this chapter will highlight motivations behind such behaviour. Cyberbullying will also be looked at in some detail, including a case study as it is becoming more present in social as we tend to move towards technology for social interactions. All research, statistics and examples are people within this age group.

History and present[edit | edit source]

"Today, the Internet allows us to do the same thing that was happening in Salem: to take a false accusation and broadcast it, very loudly and very widely. Exactly." (Schiff, 2015).

Figure 2. This is what it would have looked like during 1692 in the town of Salem.

The Salem witch trials began in 1692 when a group of girls suffering from seizures falsely accused three women of casting spells on them (Peterson, 2014). The three women were outcasts of the town. What wasn't expected was the confession of one of the three to being a witch and her claiming there was an entire coven of witches in the town of Salem (Purdy, 2007). Purdy (2007) says that, according to the records, the town of Salem had suffered from internal rivalry and social tension. The witch trials gave the people of Salem an outlet to vent their dislike of other people. This case of the Salem witch trials is a fantastic early example of what happens when people are motivated to stand against an individual and cause them harm. This case of bullying and fear spread outside the town and resulted in the known deaths of 20 innocent people; 19 were executed and one was tortured until death (Purdy, 2007).

Bullying was not a term used in the eighteenth century society; there were patterns similar to the definition of bullying today that were referred to as ‘interpersonal violence’ (Koo, 2007). These matters were seen to be private affairs between individuals. Koo (2007) says that bullying from the eighteenth century was largely based around reaction to difference in the features of a victim. Bullying often took the form of isolation and physical harassment. Very few materials exist on the number of bullying incidents that took place in the schoolyard, [grammar?] one source suggests school bullying was recognised but simply not reported (Koo, 2007). In August 1862, the first recorded shooting from being overly bullied was reported (Leah, 2010). John Flood had been for a long time a victim of long systemic bullying. He was sentenced to life in prison after taking the life of one of his tormentors.

Bullying was not taken as a serious issue until the 1970s, when researchers began to look at bullying as a problem (Koo, 2007). Since this time, bullying prevention had begun to develop many different approaches.

Cyberbullying started to gain notice in 2004 with statistics suggesting that there was a 20% chance that cyberbullying would occur to an adolescent during 2004 (Donegan, 2012). Further statistics from Donegan (2012) state that over seven different studies, the victimisation rate had increased to 27% by 2009. As the world continues to put a larger emphasis on technology and social media, these numbers can only be expected to go up.

The problem with present-day bullying[edit | edit source]

Horne, Stoddard and Bell (2007) looked into the extent of damage bullying can cause to an individual. They found that bullying is more likely to occur in social places where multiple other people are present. The results from their study were varied but all negative and greatly impactful [grammar?] on the lives of the teenagers. The rate of students leaving school as soon as it [grammar?] is allowed has increased in the US, largely found to be due to the stress of bullying. This causes young people to be unable to find good jobs and their own place in society. Horne, Stoddard and Bell (2007) also found that over the last decade the rate of bullying has grown higher.

Another study by Card and Hodges (2008) found that during a single school year research shows between 30 and 60% of students being victimised at school by their peers. Pack behaviour motivatonTemplate:Spelliing drives a lot of why adolescents flock together to bully an individual. The mentality is that acceptance and rejection rule the years of adolescence and those who are not accepted are bullied as a result of them not being in the group (Card & Hodges, 2007).

Victimisation by peers can cause adolescents to have significant maladjustment and often leads to psychological disorders if left unnoticed for long periods. However it is not only those who are victimised that are at risk of developing problems (see section on statistics on bullying).

Figure 3. The front of a school. Peaceful on the outside, but inside someone is always[factual?] a victim.

Adolescence and bullying[edit | edit source]

Bullying is a harmful activity, especially for adolescence for both the people with power and those getting abused. There are a number of reasons to suggest why it is so impacting for teenagers to either be bullied or take part in the bullying of another individual. One such idea is that during the adolescence years individuals create and develop the values and social behaviour that will become the basis of their adult identities (Benish-Weisman, 2015). This[which?] study looked at the motivation behind aggressive behaviour in young adults and how it related to the values they gained during their teenage years. The study found that teenagers that[grammar?] valued the opinions of their peers would often be motivated to participate in bullying even if it went against their nature in order to gain recognition from their peers. This cycle of bullying for the reward of being popular would lead these people to develop aggressive social behaviour. The individual being bullied in this situation would often develop anti-social views as a coping mechanism for their adolescence experiences.

In developmental psychology, adolescent self-concept is an extremely important part of life. Having a poor self-concept has been explored when transitioning from adolescent to adult and studies suggest that it has a great impact on self-esteem and the likelihood of developing depression as an adult (Steiger, Fend & Allemand, 2015). This highlights the importance of having a good self-concept develop over the adolescent years. Bullying is a serious threat to the development of a self-concept, also known as an individual identity. This development of an identity matches up with Erikson's theory of psycho-social development. This theory states that during the adolescent years, individuals will enter the stage of ego identity vs role confusion. Ego identity can be defined as the self-made organisation of an individual's values, beliefs and experiences (Seaton & Beaumont, 2014). According to Seaton and Beaumont (2014) Erikson's theory suggests that if ego identity is built up during the adolescent years, an individual will develop a healthy social identity. Unhealthy social identities become confusion with their role in society leading a young person to develop poor ego resilience, the ability to adapt to an ever changing environment with maintained self-control and balance. Adolescents generally want to feel like they belong in order to create a healthy identity with the help of their peers. This could be a potential reason while adolescents are motivated to participate in bullying. It would be looked at favourably by the group they are trying to assimilate with.

Disorders from bullying in adolescence[edit | edit source]

The high risk of lasting harm from adolescent bullying can be seen in the disorders often associated with being a victim of bullying and/or being a serious offender of bullying.

Table 1. The disorders commonly associated with bullying and their effects

Disorder Brief description Percentage found in society
Narcissistic Personality Disorder Patterns of grandiosity, self-importance, need for admiration and a lack of empathy for others. <1% (of those 50 - 75% are male)
Antisocial Personality Disorder Patterns of disregard for and violation of the rights of others, developed in adolescence and continued into adulthood. 3% of males, 1% of females
Eating Disorders (Anorexia and Bulimia) Anorexia: Refusal to maintain a minimally normal body weight.

Bulimia: Repeated episodes of binge eating, followed by compensatory behaviours such as self-induced vomiting, misuse of

laxatives or other medications, fasting, or excessive exercise.

Anorexia: 0.5 - 1% of females. not enough information on males.

Bulimia: 1 - 3% in females, a tenth of that is males.

Major Depression Disorder One or more Major Depressive Episodes: A period of at least two weeks where the individual is in a depressed mood and/or

has a loss of interest or pleasure in all activities.

5 - 9% for females, 2 - 3% for males.
Social Anxiety Disorder Persistent fear of a social or performance situation in which embarrassment might occur. The response to the possibility of these situations is an anxiety attack. 2% of population (more common in females)

Statistics and descriptions taken from the DSM-IV.

Here is a small poll about which disorder causes the most harm to an individual.

The difference with gender[edit | edit source]

Figure 4. Female symbol is on the left, male symbol is on the right.

Are males or females more affected by peer bullying behaviour?


Male bullying is greatly over-represented. Espelage, Mebane and Swearer (2004) go on to suggest that female bullying rates are getting much higher as the internet becomes more popular. Their reasoning is that females are at a much greater risk for psychological maladaption than males. Another study by Wimmer (2009) found that more females were bullied than males but more males participated in bullying than females. The study went on to say that females were generally only found to be bullied by other females. This raises some interesting questions. If males bully more than females but females are more often victims and only bully other females then surely females should have a higher rate than males of being a bully. One explanation for this is that females have a more negative attitude towards bullying than males (Espelage, Mebane & Swearer, 2004). This means that there is a higher likelihood for males to confess to bullying than females because of their difference perspectives. Some more recent statistics show that out of a typical [where?] high school, 16% of the males and 25% of the females were victims of bullying via social media while 17% of males and 21% of females participated in the cyberbullying of their peers (Donegan, 2012). This study gained the results from seven other studies across a number of schools[where?].

There are much more similarities than differences between gender in adolescent bullying. A paper by Beran (2012) found that the differences between gender could be brought down to three catergories which are:

  1. Peer Group bullying: Females more often than males bully their peers by spreading rumours and embarrassing stories through peer groups. This form of bullying most often takes place over social media where girls can easily share stories, make mean comments and do other hurtful activities to reject an individual.
  2. Sexual bullying: This form of bullying is more often females getting harassed by males, often because of appearance. Boys will go out of their way to inappropriately touch girls in private areas or send haressing sexual messages via phone or over the internet.
  3. Physical bullying: Bullying in boy peer groups often takes the form of physical aggressive. They may punch, kick, push or cause harm in any other way than involves physical force. This is especially common at college level.

Theories[edit | edit source]

[Provide more detail]

Homophily motivation[edit | edit source]

Peer groups are formed based on similarities between gender and race, as well as similar behaviours and academic goals (Espelage, Mebane & Swearer, 2004). This similarity within the group is known as homophily. Homophily can also be said to mean that dissimilarity will cause dislike within the group (Dijkstra, Lindenberg & Veenstra, 2015). This is the basis of the theory of why groups are motivated to participate in bullying. Espelage, Mebane and Swearer (2004) describe this as students that hang out with people who bullied were in turn more like to bully because they wanted to prove to the group that what was liked by the group was also liked by the individual.

One study looking at homophily and the effect that gender had towards rejection and bullying found that boys and girls both tended to reject the opposite gender from their group (Dijkstra, Lindenberg & Veenstra, 2015). This study is interesting because it seems to hold no relation to statistics that show males bully males and females bully females. It suggests that instead females will be bullied by males and males will be bullied by females. One possible explanation behind these differences is that this study was focused around young adolescence (ages 10 to 12). The young age might mean that gender is more important to peers than things such as appearance and behaviour.

A second study by Jacoby-Senghor, Sinclair and Smith (2015) looked at the effect of homophily on different race peer groups. Their hypothesis was that individuals from one group would be looked at with social judgement and viewed poorly if they associated with a different group or individual that was considered disliked by the group. They tested this using groups made up of white skinned people and dark skinned people. Their results found that there was stigma associated with people who went from one group to another. For example, if a dark skinned individual had gone to hang out with white skinned people, they would be viewed with a social stigma if the original group was anti-white. This study shows the importance that homophily could have in identifying why groups are motivated to turn against an individual and also why others are reluctant to help an individual who has been outcast by the group.

Social Information Processing Model[edit | edit source]

The Social Information Processing model is based around the idea that impairment in social-problem solving often leads to development of aggression towards peers (Espelage, Mebane & Swearer, 2004). In adolescence, social information processing is strongly based around emotion, according to Vagos, Rijo & Santos, 2015. When someone has a lot of aggression due to poor social-problem solving, their peers will often join in simply because their emotions get the better of them.

A study by Espelage, Mebane and Swearer (2004) hypothesised that most bullies actually have good social concepts as bullying largely takes place in secret where most of the peers cannot witness it. They came up with the idea that using the social information processing model, they could guess at whether or not a bully may emphasis with their victims. The use of empathy with bullying is not a new idea as a study by Caravita, Di Blasto and Salmivalli (2008) found that some bullies had high empathy and used it as motivation to bully their target. One reason why this might have occurred is that greater empathy means they had more social awareness so they knew if they didn't bully they may be seen as friendly to the victim and then regarded in the same way. This all falls under the social information processing model.

Quiz time! Check your understanding.[edit | edit source]

Figure 4. A question mark to symbolise the use of a quiz.

1 Why are the Salem witch trials relevant to bullying in the present time?

The witch trials was a form of group bullying that should be researched.
People can still be executed today for being a witch
The witch trials could happen again
They involved many things that cyberbullying does today, like spreading rumours

2 Which disorder has the highest rate of appearance in society?

Antisocial Personality Disorder
Major Depressive Disorder
Social Anxiety Disorder

3 Why is it seen as more important for girls to have peer groups than boys?

Girls are more dependent on their peers
Boys like being alone
Girls have a higher chance of psychological problems
Girls like to bully and need groups to do it

4 Which theory of pack bullying behaviour is explained below?

'The presence of similarities in gender, race and behaviour.'

Social Information Processing
Erikson's theory of psycho-social development
Wasn't mentioned in this chapter

Cyberbullying[edit | edit source]

There is little consistency in how cyberbullying has been defined (Mehari, Farrell & Le, 2014). A couple of definitions are:

  • Repeated aggression that is intended to harm carried out in an electric context (Kowalski, Giumetti, Schroeder & Lattanner, 2014).
  • The use of information and communication technology used to support deliberate hostile behaviour that is repeated. The technology used may include e-mail, cell phones, text messages, instant messages and personal websites (Barlett, 2015).

The purpose of cyberbullying is the same as the purpose of normal bullying and that is to cause harm to another human being. Barlett (2015) says that 29% of adolescent cyber-victims had a hard time identifying the people that were bullying them. This increases the ease to spread rumours and gossip throughout a school. He continues to say because of this, it might be that cyberbullying also increases the amount of traditional bullying at a school. One possible explanation is that the anonymous nature of cyberbullying makes it hard for bullies to get the recognition from their peers that they want so they use traditional bullying as well as a way around this.

Mehari, Farrell and Le (2014) suggest that one of the distinct things about cyberbullying is that it is a unique form of aggression which seems to cause more psychological harm to adolescents than traditional bullying. This could be explained by the need to fit in with peers. If an individual was being constantly harassed online they would find it hard to then face anyone offline.

It is hard to say whether the rates of cyberbullying are increasing slightly over time as there is a lot of variation between studies (Kowalski, Giumetti, Schrieder & Lattenner, 2014). Their work on cyberbullying showed a victimisation rate between 10 and 40% of students surveyed in 2014. 

Another factor that adds to the impact of cyberbullying is the fact that this type of victimisation occurs more frequently with the rising use of technology and the predictors are more easily identified with the open use of mobile phones and the majority of homes having access to the internet. A greater number of incidents are anonymous which is one aspect that differentiates cyberbullying from more traditional types of bullying. For example, it was found that anonymity is more likely to influence bullying behaviour in that a person is more likely to engage in cyber bullying if they are able to remain anonymous than if they are to be non-anonymous (Bartlett, Gentile and Chew, 2014).  

The tragic story of Amanda Todd[edit | edit source]

This is the video posted on YouTube by Amanda Todd one month before she was found dead in her home. Warning: it is extremely upsetting to watch.

Figure 5. Amanda Todd experienced multiple of these before her death.

Amanda Todd was 15 years old when she committed suicide due to overwhelming numbers of cyberbullying occurrences. She was found dead in her home on the 10th October, 2012, one month after posting the video linked above.

Amanda Todd described her life of being bullied in the video starting with the day she made the mistake of giving a stranger a revealing photo of her. The photo was posted to everyone in her school during a Christmas holiday break and this started the long torment of the poor young girl. She was beaten by fellow students, teased online and offline and moved schools three times. The photo continued to follow her and the hurtful social media never stopped as no matter where she went people told her to kill herself and that she deserved all she was given. She had been diagnosed with Major Depression, Anxiety and Panic Disorder. She tried to commit suicide on multiple occasions, got involved with drugs and alcohol and fell into a deep pit of despair. One of the last things she shows during the video is a card that says “I have nobody. I need someone.” All this information was included by her in the video she uploaded to the popular social media website YouTube.

She still felt alone enough to end her own life.

The story of Amanda Todd went viral after her death and the video currently has almost 20 million views. 

What came after her death and why did it happen?[edit | edit source]

After her death in 2012, Amanda's video continued to receive a large amount of hate, most often with people calling her an attention seeker who could have just turned off the internet if it was a problem for her. As Katzer, Fetchenhauer and Belschak (2009) put it, victims of extreme cyberbullying cannot escape because more often than not the bullying takes place outside of social media as well as on it. This is clear in Amanda's video as she explains the torment by her peers in the real world, not just the internet. As well as this, Amanda said that she suffered greatly from an anxiety disorder known as Panic Disorder. Panic Disorder is characterised by recurrent unexpected panic attacks which is followed by at least one month of worrying that another one will occur, according to the DSM-IV. Amanda would have found it hard to stay away from the internet as that would take away what little control she had and in her mind increase the chance of another panic attack. She felt as if she had no escape from cyberbullying and ultimately this was why it happened.

In 2014 news articles around the world announced they had finally arrested a man they had believed was involved in the photo that had lead to Amanda's fate. Here is the BBC's article about it.

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

This chapter aimed to increase awareness towards bullying via explanation some of the motivations behind bullying as a group. This was done through looking at the history, disorders, gender differences and theories of bullying. A case study was included to give an example of cyberbullying which is becoming increasing popular.

See also[edit | edit source]

Assessment marking page

2015 Full Book

Relevant chapters:

Alcohol and Aggression

Defense Mechanism Motivation

Major Depressive Episode and Motivation

Aggression in adolescents

Cyberbullying motivation

External links[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

American Psychiatric Association. (2000). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th ed., text rev.). doi:10.1176/appi.books.9780890423349.

Barlett, C. P. (2015). Anonymously hurting others online: The effect of anonymity on cyberbullying frequency. Psychology Of Popular Media Culture4(2), 70–79. doi:10.1037/a0034335

Bartlett, C.P., Gentile, D.A., & Chew, C., (2014) Predicting cyberbullying from anonymity. Psychology of Popular Media Culture. 14. Advance Online Publication.

Benish-Weisman, M. (2015). The interplay between values and aggression in adolescence: A longitudinal study. Developmental Psychology51(5), 677–687. doi:10.1037/dev0000015

Beran, T. (2012). Bullying: What are the differences between boys and girls? Retrieved from

Caravita, S., Di Blasio, P., & Salmivalli, C. (2009). Unique and interactive effects of empathy and social status on involvement in bullying. Social development18(1), 140–163.

Card, N. A., & Hodges, E. E. (2008). Peer victimization among schoolchildren: Correlations, causes, consequences, and considerations in assessment and intervention. School Psychology Quarterly23(4), 451–461. doi:10.1037/a0012769

Dijkstra, J. K., Lindenberg, S., & Veenstra, R. (2007). Same-gender and cross-gender peer acceptance and peer rejection and their relation to bullying and helping among preadolescents: Comparing predictions from gender-homophily and goal-framing approaches. Developmental Psychology43(6), 1377–1389. doi:10.1037/0012-1649.43.6.1377

Donegan, R. (2012). Bullying and cyberbullying: History, statistics, law, prevention and analysis. The Elon Journal of Undergraduate Research in Communications, 3(1), 33 - 40.

Espelage, D. L., Mebane, S. E., & Swearer, S. M. (2004). Gender differences in bullying: Moving beyond mean level differences. Bullying in American schools: A social-ecological perspective on prevention and intervention, 15–35.

Hartley, M. S. (2015). Comparative Study of Bullying Victimization Among Students in General and Special Education. Exceptional Children81(2), 176–193.

Horne, A. M., Stoddard, J. L., & Bell, C. D. (2007). Group approaches to reducing aggression and bullying in school. Group Dynamics: Theory, Research, And Practice11(4), 262–271. doi:10.1037/1089-2699.11.4.262

Jacoby-Senghor, D. S., Sinclair, S., & Smith, C. T. (2015). When bias binds: Effect of implicit outgroup bias on ingroup affiliation. Journal Of Personality And Social Psychology109(3), 415–433. doi:10.1037/a0039513

Katzer, C., Fetchenhauer, D., & Belschak, F. (2009). Cyberbullying: Who are the victims?: A comparison of victimization in internet chatrooms and victimization in school. Journal Of Media Psychology: Theories, Methods, And Applications21(1), 25–36. doi:10.1027/1864-1105.21.1.25

Koo, H. (2007). A time line of the evolution of school bullying in differing social contexts. Asia Pacific Education Review, 8(1), 107 - 116.

Kowalski, R. M., Giumetti, G. W., Schroeder, A. N., & Lattanner, M. R. (2014). Bullying in the digital age: A critical review and meta-analysis of cyberbullying research among youth. Psychological Bulletin140(4), 1073–1137. doi:10.1037/a0035618

Leah. (2010). The history of school bullying. Bullying in Schools: A Behaviour Profile. Retrieved from

Mehari, K. R., Farrell, A. D., & Le, A. H. (2014). Cyberbullying among adolescents: Measures in search of a construct. Psychology Of Violence4(4), 399–415. doi:10.1037/a0037521

Peterson, B. (2014). What the Salem witch trials taught us about language. The Boston Globe. Retrieved from

Purdy, S. (2007). Conjuring history: The many interpretations of the Salem witchcraft trials. Rivier Academic Journal, 3(1), 1 - 15.

Rodkin, P. C., Espelage, D. L., & Hanish, L. D. (2015). A relational framework for understanding bullying: Developmental antecedents and outcomes. American Psychologist70(4), 311–321. doi:10.1037/a0038658

Schiff, S. (2015). Author Stacy Schiff discusses Salem witch trials. Retrieved from

Seaton, C. L., & Beaumont, S. L. (2014). Exploring the links between identity styles and forgiveness in university students. Canadian Journal Of Behavioural Science / Revue Canadienne Des Sciences Du Comportement46(3), 366–374. doi:10.1037/a0032009

Sinyor, M. H. (2014). An Observational Study of Bullying as a Contributing Factor in Youth Suicide in Toronto. Canadian Journal Of Psychiatry59(12), 632–638.

Steiger, A. E., Fend, H. A., & Allemand, M. (2015). Testing the vulnerability and scar models of self-esteem and depressive symptoms from adolescence to middle adulthood and across generations. Developmental Psychology51(2), 236–247. doi:10.1037/a0038478

Vagos, P., Rijo, D., & Santos, I. M. (2015). Scenes for Social Information Processing in Adolescence: Item and Factor Analytic Procedures for Psychometric Appraisal. Psychological Assessment, doi:10.1037/pas0000194

Wimmer, S. (2009). Views on gender differences in bullying in relation to language and gender role socialisation. Griffith Working Papers in Pragmatics and Intercultural Communication 2(1), 18–26.