Social Psychology Essay

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Social psychology is the study of human behavior in social situations, showing how social pressures and sociological variables can impact psychological phenomenon such as identity, motivation, personality, or behavior. A quintessential topic in the field of social psychology is bullying. Bullying can be studied from a public health perspective, showing how the external variables such as how a school is designed and the leadership and organizational culture of the school affects risk factors implicated in bullying behaviors or victimization patterns. Alternatively, bullying can be examined from a purely psychological perspective to reveal the factors implicated in aggressive physical or verbal behaviors or alternatively, to study victim characteristics or why some bystanders refuse to step in when they observe bullying behaviors. This latter issue links in with the social psychology approach. The social psychology of bullying examines factors like why some people perpetrate bullying behaviors due to their upbringing, their sense of identity or gender role, or their perceived role in their peer group. As researchers are increasingly finding that bullying is a “complex phenomenon, influenced by multiple factors,” a “social-ecological framework” provides an effective means to identify risk factors and causal variables (Swearer & Hymel, 2015, p. 344). In this way, social psychology approaches to bullying can inform public policy, school policy, and even ultimately impact social norms. The thesis of this research is that bullying creates opportunities to develop pathways for building more supportive, collaborative, and integrative school-based communities that stimulate resilience and mitigate risk factors.

The Problem of Bullying

Bullying has been described as a “worldwide problem” that occurs without respect to cultural diversity, geographic context, or temporal variables (Sutton, Smith & Swettenham, 1999, p. 435). Variables impacting bullying stem from “individual, family, peer group, school and community” factors, which is why a social psychological and social-ecological framework are necessary for understanding the problem and suggesting possible solutions (Swearer & Hymel, 2015, p. 344). As Jenkins, Demaray & Tennant (2017) point out, there are also three main components in bullying including the bullying act(s) themselves, defending behaviors on the part of both those who support the bully and those who support the victims, and also victimization. Biological/genetic, cultural, familial, and peer/school factors all impact these three facets of bullying, including the decision to engage in bullying behaviors, the decisions to defend or not, and the reactions to bullying on the part of the victim (Eisenberg, Spinrad & Knafo-Noam, 2015). Research consistently shows that adolescents with strong social support systems are victimized less often and less severely, and also have higher sense of self-efficacy and greater locus of control (Mishna, Khoury-Kassabri, Schwan, et al., 2016). Therefore, bullying interventions should focus on how to strengthen social supports and create a prosocial environment through community building and collaboration rather than to use punitive measures or focus on each isolated incident.

Intervention programs also need to focus on all the aspects of bullying and not just on the bully and the victim. Past attempts at anti-bullying interventions in school have been “disappointing” because they often fail to address some of the structural and ecological variables that impact bullying (Hawley & Williford, 2015, p. 3). Research also shows that bullying behaviors are precipitated by factors that are trans-personal. “Social skills and emotional and executive functioning appear to vary systematically across bullying roles and should be considered when developing targeted social–emotional interventions to stop bullying,” (Jenkins, Demaray & Tennant, 2017, p. 42). The emphasis on interventions should also be on methods that will measurably “increase defending, and support victims or those at risk for victimization,” (Jenkins, Demaray & Tennant, 2017, p. 42).

Bullying is social psychological because it showcases the “different participant roles” each stakeholder plays in the dynamic (Pouwels, Salmivalli, Saarento, et al., 2017, p. 1157). Moreover, social status variables are implicated in all instances of bullying, influencing the behaviors and attitudes of perpetrators, defenders, and victims. The reactions of adults to bullying behaviors, to defending, and also to victimization also plays a strong role in whether bullying will persist or whether it can be extinguished using reliable and evidence-based means. Parents and teachers both play major roles in bullying prevention, in creating the school atmosphere that is least conducive to bullying.

Theoretical Perspectives

The theoretical perspectives used in social psychology to study bullying and offer evidence-based solutions include systems theory and related concepts such as the social-ecological framework. As Hawley & Williford (2015) found, most anti-bullying interventions fail to work because “most lack clearly articulated, comprehensive, and coherent theoretical grounding to explain each programmatic element at all levels of the intervention, and, importantly, the interactions among them,” (p. 2). Clarifying the theoretical orientation of the intervention is one way of making that intervention more effective, by offering clearer, purpose-driven guidelines for action.
In additional to the social-ecological framework, several other theoretical orientations shed light on the bullying phenomenon. Social learning theory is of course one of the most fundamental of all theories that can be used to describe how bullies learn their behavior by modeling it after those they admire, or how victims model their behavior after others too. The theory of planned behavior is also relevant to the study of bullying (Hawley & Williford, 2015).

Cognitive-behavioral theories also show how each stakeholder processes the information relevant to the bullying, including the decision to bully, the decision to defend, and reactions to the bullying on the part of the victim (Jenkins, Demaray & Tennant, 2017). Emotional intelligence theories and concepts also play into the bullying and the defensive behaviors, relevant to “empathy-related responding,” (Eisenberg, Spinrad & Knafo-Noam, 2015, p. 1). Theories related to self-concept and self-perception and how they influence social status and social support are also used to describe and understand bullying, with possible implications for policy development (Mishna, Khoury-Kassabri, Schwan, et al., 2016). These types of theories focused on self-concept and self-perception can be grouped under the rubric of social cognitive theories (Sutton, Smith & Swettenham, 1999). Transactional models of bullying also highlight…

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…could include groups of parents, groups of students, groups of educators and administrators who were interviewed separately and asked different questions. The focus groups would yield information about perceptions of the intervention and perceptions of bullying behaviors. Interviews with students, especially those who had experienced bullying or had participated in bullying would also help. Other means of assessing program effectiveness would be to observe student behaviors, soliciting the assistance of administrators who would allow researchers to monitor student behavior over time. Because so many instances of bullying go unreported and instances are often subtle, using quantitative means to assess program effectiveness would be better off as longitudinal studies. Longitudinal studies that measure the prevalence of bullying prior to the intervention and then over the course of the next several years would show whether the program was appreciably altering norms and behaviors.

Relevant Career Paths

Bullying is a multidisciplinary issue. Multiple stakeholders are involved in the study of bullying and in the administration of tactics and strategies for reducing bullying prevalence and severity. Because bullying is not just a school-based phenomenon and also has manifestation in adult workplace environments, it is important to study bullying from within different professional and theoretical orientations. Psychologists always need to take bullying into account when working with clients. Therefore, both psychologists and psychiatrists can lend insight into bullying behaviors, into the emotional and cognitive factors implicated in bullying, in defending behaviors, and in victimization patterns. Building on the work of psychologists, the intervention program can become more effective and applicable to the target population. Social workers, who recognize the intersections of variables like gender, class, and race on self-concept and on belongingness, would also have a lot to offer the discussion on how to reduce bullying and develop the most appropriate interventions. Both social workers and psychologists can also show public awareness campaign designers the variables that are most implicated in behavioral change. These are all professions that can demonstrate the relationship between self-concept, identity, and power.

Other career paths to which insight into bullying will be applicable include those related to education. Administrators and other leaders in education are in charge of the policies and ethical guidelines governing human resources training programs. Likewise, administrators and leaders in educational institutions implement leadership strategies and managerial styles that can create the ideal organizational culture and environment conducive for support and anti-bullying. Teachers can learn how to recognize the early warning signs and micro-aggressions, or to detect when students may be vulnerable to being victims and offer support or interventions that can help rather than just ignoring those students.

School counselors will also be on the front lines of anti-bullying intervention strategies. Counselors need to be more active in working with teachers to develop intervention strategies and classroom management techniques. When working with students, school counselors can show how those who struggle socially can improve self-efficacy and resilience and avoid the types of logical fallacies and dysfunctional self-concepts that lead to either bullying behavior….....

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Eisenberg, N., Spinrad, T.L., & Knafo-Noam, A. (2015). Prosocial development. Handbook of Child Psychology and Developmental Science,

Hawley, P.H. & Williford, A. (2015). Articulating the theory of bullying intervention programs: Views from social psychology, social work, and organizational science. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology 37(2015): 3-15.

Hymel, S., & Swearer, S. M. (2015). Four decades of research on school bullying: An introduction. American Psychologist, 70(4), 293-299.

Jenkins, L.N., Demaray, M.L. & Tennant, J. (2017). Social, Emotional, and Cognitive Factors Associated With Bullying. School Psychology Review 46(1); 42-64.

Michna, F., Khoury-Kassabri, M., Schwan, K., et al. (2016). The contribution of social support to children and adolescents\' self-perception: The mediating role of bullying victimization. Children and Youth Services Review 63(2016): 120-127.

Pouwels, J.L., Salmivalli, C., Saarento, S., et al. (2017). Predicting Adolescents’ Bullying Participation from Developmental Trajectories of Social Status and Behavior. Child Development 89(4): 1157-1176.

Rigby, K. (2000). Effects of peer victimization in schools and perceived social support on adolescent well-being. Journal of Adolescence 23(1): 57-68.

Sentse, M., Kretschmer, T., & Salmivalli, C. (2015). The Longitudinal Interplay between Bullying, Victimization, and Social Status: Age-related and Gender Differences. Social Development, 24(3), 659–677. doi:10.1111/sode.12115

Sutton, J., Smith, P.K. & Swettenham, J. (1999). Social cognition and bullying: Social inadequacy or skilled manipulation? British Journal of Developmental Psychology 17(3): 435-450.

Swearer, S. M., & Hymel, S. (2015). Understanding the psychology of bullying: Moving toward a social-ecological diathesis–stress model. American Psychologist, 70(4), 344-353.
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