The Psychology of Cyberbullying as Seen Through the University of Rhode Island

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Senior Honors Projects

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Costello, Meaghan Rose
Cyberbullying; Collegiate; Psychology; Cyberbullying; Collegiate; Psychology; Cognition and Perception; Experimental Analysis of Behavior
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Cyberbullying is among the most common forms of bullying in today’s American society. There has been an increase in communication through social media, texting, and other forms of technology, as well as a decrease in ‘real-life’ and interpersonal communication. Technological advances have facilitated indirect and passive aggressive forms of harassment on the internet. Many people know someone who has experienced cyberbullying, or have experienced it themselves. Bullying in general receives tremendous attention—with nonprofit groups on a mission to spread awareness and schools actively outlining detailed policies against it, children grow up understanding its repercussions. However, this form of bullying has not received the same form of consideration.Some attention has been directed to cyberbullying at middle- and high-school levels, but college students and adults who experience it often lack the resources and guidance necessary to deal with this problem effectively. Students and faculty alike are, overall, unaware of university guidelines with cyberbullying. It is a growing issue receiving minimal attention. Administrations often do not clearly outline their expectations with cyberbullying, and sometimes they do not have policies in place whatsoever. In many instances, students and faculty are also unaware that what they are experiencing is cyberbullying and assume that it is not a problem that continues into adulthood; that cyberbullying is only seen in young teenagers. Many people cannot accurately or succinctly define cyberbullying. The issue is perpetuated when college students and adults assume cyberbullying is only experienced by young teenagers, generally lack awareness of policies or how to cope with it, and do not possess the ability to define the word at all.This study is based on an experience I had in the 2013-2014 academic year as a Resident Advisor at URI, where a number of female roommates spoke kindly and minimally to each other in person, but spoke harshly and coldly about one another on Twitter. It is also an extension of independent work I did last semester through URI’s Psychology department, where I completed a literature review and critique on current knowledge of collegiate cyberbullying. I researched multiple Psychological studies that addressed collegiate cyberbullying and found that even those studies struggle defining the word. If people cannot accurately outline the definition, it is likely difficult for them to understand its meaning. This maintains the issue of awareness associated with collegiate cyberbullying.This project examined cyberbullying among college freshmen. A residence-hall program on cyberbullying awareness was designed with a pretest and posttest to assess its effectiveness. At this stage, the research has been submitted to the University’s Institutional Review Board for approval, and plans have been made to conduct the study once approval has been granted.