Academic journal article School Psychology Review

Peer Sympathy for Bullied Youth: Individual and Classroom Considerations

Academic journal article School Psychology Review

Peer Sympathy for Bullied Youth: Individual and Classroom Considerations

Article excerpt

Bullying is a major health problem, as victims of bullying experience a host of adjustment issues (see Juvonen & Graham, 2014, for a review). In an effort to combat bullying, research has moved beyond a focus on the bully/victim dyad to one that places importance on the broader social framework in which bullying often occurs (Espelage & Swearer, 2004). Specifically, bullying is influenced by individual, peer, family, and school contexts, and social-ecological researchers examine the interactions among these contexts to better understand factors that contribute to bullying (e.g., Lindstrom Johnson, Waasdorp, Debnam, & Bradshaw, 2013; Waasdorp, Pas, O'Brennan, & Bradshaw, 2011). At the individual level, studies suggest that bystanders can intervene in bullying situations by assisting the victim (Hymel, McClure, Miller, Shumka, & Trach, 2015; Saarento, Boulton, & Salmivalli, 2015; Twemlow & Sacco, 2013), and demonstrating sympathy for a victimized peer has been associated with defending behavior (Caravita, Di Blasio, & Salmivalli, 2009; Gini, 2006; Poyhonen, Juvonen, & Salmivalli, 2010). It is important to differentiate sympathy--an affective response that involves feeling sorrow or concern for another who experiences distress (Eisenberg et al., 2006)--from cognitive empathy, which has been defined as the ability to understand others' emotions (Davis, 1983) and is positively related to bullying behavior (Caravita et al., 2009). For example, understanding that victims are experiencing emotional distress may be reinforcing for bullies (Caravita et al., 2009), but experiencing one's own distress at witnessing bullying (i.e., feeling sympathy) may lead to defending behavior (i.e., intervening). Although bolstering sympathy for victimized peers is a worthy goal, few studies have examined factors that influence sympathy, and to our knowledge, none have explored both individual and classroom factors in its development. Doing so is an important extension of the literature given there are numerous influences on individual behavior, and considering issues at a broader ecological level (as classroom constructs) can bolster the explanatory power of models (Rinehart & Espelage, 2016). Accordingly, the goal of this study was to investigate individual- and classroom-level influences on sympathy for bullied youth.

Individual-Level Considerations

To enhance our understanding of factors that are associated with higher levels of sympathy for victimized peers, the focus on factors associated with sympathy will aid in the identification of malleable characteristics for prevention and intervention. It is important to examine the associations among social influence, aggression, and sympathy because this will enable us to leverage the influence of socially influential (i.e., popular) youth, who can exert a strong influence on others' behavior (MacEvoy & Leff, 2012; Waasdorp, Baker, Paskewich, & Leff, 2013). The nature of this influence depends on the type of popularity, often called sociometric popularity or perceived popularity. Sociometric popularity refers to youth who are well liked by their classmates (and by definition not disliked), whereas perceived popularity refers to youth who are perceived by their peers to be popular (Parkhurst & Hopmeyer, 1998). These two types of popularity have been associated with different outcomes. Specifically, sociometric popularity has been linked with decreases in physical aggression (e.g., hitting others) as well as relational aggression (e.g., spreading rumors or gossip) through middle school (Ojanen & Findley-Van Nostrand, 2014) and associated with kindness and trustworthiness (Parkhurst & Hopmeyer, 1998; Puckett, Aikins, & Cillessen, 2008).

In contrast, perceived popularity has been associated with high levels of peer dislike (e.g., Mayeux, Sandstrom, &

Cillessen, 2008; Vaillancourt & Hymel, 2006) and has predicted increases in relational and overt aggression (Ojanen & Findley-Van Nostrand, 2014). …

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