Cyberbullying in the Global Playground: Research from International Perspectives, First Edition.
Edited by Qing Li, Donna Cross, and Peter K. Smith.
© 2012 Blackwell Publishing Ltd. Published 2012 by Blackwell Publishing Ltd.
The continuous expansion of electronic space gives adolescents the opportunity to
free themselves from restrictions relating to their age and offers them easy access to
a world which is beyond that of their families and schools. Recent European surveys
show that the diffusion of the Internet is a worldwide phenomenon, compared to
the Internet diffusion reported 10 years ago. Italy reports an Internet penetration of
51.7% and a 127.5% percentage increase compared to the former data collection;
the UK reports an Internet diffusion of around 82.5% and a percentage increase of
234.0%; and in Spain the rate of increase is even higher, at 440.0%, reaching 62.6%
of the population (source: www.internetworldstats.com/stats.htm).1
The possibility of establishing virtual social interactions has become increasingly
important for 10–13-year-olds. In the first years of adolescence, numerous friend-
ships are created and young people want to manifest their own identity in terms of
their relations with others (Arcuri, 2008), and new technologies offer immense
opportunities to do this.
Young people use these means as a form of expression to communicate information
about themselves. Some scholars consider the Internet to be a means by which young
people can explore and build their own identity (Calvert, 2002) and experiment
with diverse roles in interactive games (Turkle, 1995; McDonald & Kim, 2001). They
can explore various ways of presenting themselves (Harter, 1998), find useful
information, receive, and send instant messages (IM), create personal web pages
(Schmitt, Dayanim, & Matthias, 2008), or write blogs (Huffaker & Calvert, 2005).
In a US study, Schmitt, Dayanim, & Matthias (2008) interviewed 500 preadolescents
Self-Esteem and Loneliness
in Relation to Cyberbullying
in Three European Countries
Antonella Brighi, Giannino Melotti, Annalisa
Guarini, Maria Luisa Genta, Rosario Ortega,
Joaquín Mora-Merchán, Peter K. Smith,
and Fran Thompson
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Self-Esteem, Loneliness, and Cyberbullying 33
and adolescents aged 8 to 17 and found that 66% of those who had a personal home
page or blog had been contacted by people they had never met before. This was true
mainly for adolescents (71.4%), but less so for preadolescents (37.5%).
This function is in line with the process of psychosocial moratorium (Erikson,
1950; Marcia, 1980) in which the adolescent is given time and space to acquire a
stable identity. In preadolescence such Internet applications constitute a way of
exploring one’s own identity and later, in adolescence, become a way of giving it
form, allowing this identity to be explored, tested, and remodeled under the
guarantee of anonymity.
Bullying in Traditional and Virtual Contexts
This present generation is the first generation of adolescents growing up in a society
in which “being connected” represents a fact of life, an experience ingrained in
day-to-day living (Raskaukas & Stoltz, 2007). The possibility of also always being
“elsewhere,” in reality and parallel universes, offers adolescents a new and stimulating
context of interaction and, at the same time, it forces researchers to investigate the
new scenarios of communication which may require a quite different paradigm
from those that were used for face-to-face communication. Despite the enormous
possibilities offered by ICT, the data concerning the diffusion of ICT allows us to
also foresee a positive correlation between the diffusion of episodes of misuse and
bullying. The distorted and improper use of ICT to intentionally attack defenseless
people and cause damage to their reputation, facilitated by anonymity and by the
potential planetary diffusion of insults, has been called cyberbullying. Cyberbullying
describes an aggressive and intentional act conducted by an individual or a group of
individuals using various forms of electronic contact, repeatedly over time against a
victim (Smith et al., 2008).
With the advent of cyberbullying, students who bully others do not act solely in
the “real world,” but can also target victims in the “virtual world” offered by the
Internet. Adolescents in particular may be the target of aggression online as the
virtual world is a major part of their socializing. The high frequency with which
people meet, communicate and interact online has given the emergence of deviant
behavior more importance—in the sense that it is different from “real life interactions”
and true acts of delinquency and criminality in the “real” world. Chisholm (2006)
calls this behavior “disinhibition” and it explains how people do not behave in the
same way in cyberspace as in real life, especially when engaging in violent or
fraudulent conduct. This disinhibition in communication and hence in the system
of relationships with others when using the Internet or mobile phone communication
can lead to hostile interactions (Willard, 2006).
The widespread use of virtual interactions which extend from purely work-related
environments to all the areas of daily life, leads social psychologists to ask whether
these interactions are regulated by the same social processes and mechanisms that
take place in the “real” world. Is it useful to use the same explanations and theories
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34 Antonella Brighi et al.
with which we analyze the environment of everyday life for what takes place in a
virtual world? Moreover, what are the consequences of cybervictimization in the
“real lives” of victims?
As a social or psychological phenomenon, aggression accomplished through the
new communication media is often more subtle and more encompassing than
traditional face-to-face forms (Suler, 2004; Willard, 2006; Brighi, Guarini, & Genta,
2009). The features of the Internet that may facilitate aggression may be considered
within a general framework suggested by the social learning theorist Bandura
(1996), focusing on the causes of aggressive behavior. This perspective considers the
role of interactive multiple factors: those creating the motivation to commit
aggression, those reducing internal and external inhibitions that may prevent acting
out the desire to aggress, and those providing the opportunity for the act to occur.
Motivational, disinhibitory, and opportunity factors may create a blend in the
virtual world with peculiar characteristics still not well understood, but clearly our
understanding of bullying behavior must be considered from a different perspective.
It is within this context that the presumed invisibility, the weakening of ethical
qualms, the high degree of spontaneity and immediacy, the absence of spatio-
temporal limits, and disinhibition become the means through which most
adolescents begin to cyberbully.
A psychosocial approach may suggest further points to be considered, as studies
on traditional bullying inspired by this approach reveal. Aggressive behavior is seen
as the result of the interaction between individual dispositions and the context in
which it takes place. The latter context is mainly characterized by its social dimen-
sion; that is, the presence of various social groups, the normative and evaluative
system that regulates interactions among individuals and groups, and the historical/
cultural system of reference. As Ojala and Nesdale (2004) note, most studies on
(traditional) bullying are interested in an analysis of the psychosocial characteristics
of students who bully or their victims and the consequences of such victimization
(Olweus, 1994; Boulton & Smith, 1994; Bernstein & Watson, 1997; Craig, 1998;
Hawker & Boulton, 2000; Rigby, 2001; Smith, Shu, & Madsen, 2001; Ortega & Del
Rey, 2008), while some researchers have analyzed bullying as a group process
(Salmivalli, Lagerspetz, Bjorkquist, Osterman, & Kaukianinen, 1996; Ortega &
Mora-Merchán, 1996, 2008; Salmivalli, Huttunen, & Lagerspetz, 1997; Atlas & Pepler,
1998; Genta, 2002). Most cases of bullying do not only involve the bully and the
victim but rather entire groups of people of the same age who take part, more or less
actively, in the aggressive action while playing diverse roles (assistants or followers,
supporters, defenders of the victim, bystanders, and those neutral to such scenes).
A key psychosocial concept that has been proposed to understand bullying as a
phenomenon dependent upon group processes and dynamics is that of social
identity defined as “that part of an individual’s self-concept which derives from his
knowledge of his membership in a social group (or groups) together with the value
and emotional significance attached to that membership” (Tajfel, 1981, p. 255).
Social identity does not limit itself to being a category that individuals use to
describe their own belonging to a group but, because particular emotive states and
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Self-Esteem, Loneliness, and Cyberbullying 35
values are associated with it, it is prescriptive that a member of a group must have
certain attitudes and modes of behavior if he is to remain such a member. This
system establishes both the internal and external functioning of the group and
prescribes what the attitudes, behavior modes, and rules of conduct are that every
member must observe regarding people their own age, adults, other adolescent
groups and, more generally, collectively. In a period of experimentation and
“psychosocial moratorium” as adolescence (Erikson, 1950; Marcia, 1980), where the
individual makes an effort to respond to the demand for differentiation from
parental figures, the identification with peers is functional to the process of the
adolescent’s social identity construction. This is because she earns the status of
“belonging” to a group in which she can make her own rules within the group which
are shared by members her own age and she can behave towards adults, other groups,
and society in accordance with the dictates of this group (Berti, 1993, 2005).
The concepts proposed by social identity theory, concerning group normative
systems, values, and affiliative behaviors of group members, can be complemented
by the “theory of deviance as management of reputation” put forward by Emler and
Reicher (1995), established with the intention of explaining for the more general
phenomenon of adolescent deviance. According to this view, adolescents behave in
a transgressive way simply to can communicate something about themselves to the
public. Deviant actions (but also those that conform to social rules) correspond to a
strategy that the individual adopts so as to build and maintain a certain reputation
within the social context in which she interacts and that reflects her orientation
towards formal authority. Infringing social rules becomes a way of managing her
own reputation, a means of strengthening her own identity within a group that
collectively endorses such norms of antisocial behavior.
According to this perspective, bullying should not be interpreted as simply an act
of aggression by the bully, but also as an act of communication relative to the identity
of both the bully and the victim. The bully, in this sense, without spectators and
without followers would not be anyone and would not be recognized as having the
identity of a bully. The Internet, as a means of communication, therefore becomes
fundamental for “publicizing,” divulging acts of bullying, and “creating” an audience
which contributes to strengthening the bully’s identity. The bully, in fact, feels proud
and responsible for her own acts which she judges as demonstrations of her own
strong self as aggressor.
The act of bullying, especially when it becomes “known to the public domain”
(as in some cases of cyberbullying), contributes to a defining of the identity and
social reputation of the victim. This is particularly true in those cases of electronic
aggression where the person who perpetrates bullying uses the medium (that is, text
messaging, social networks, blogs, YouTube) for committing acts of cyberbullying
with the aim of smearing the victim’s reputation. The unfortunate victim finds
himself being an object of a negative identity and reputation that he did not choose
but which undoubtedly impresses upon his social relations.
Melotti, Passini, and Biolcati (2009) stressed the particular characteristics of this
form of cyberbullying as being more indirect forms of cyberbullying, where there
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36 Antonella Brighi et al.
exists a relationship of direct aggression from bully to victim and the new media are
used as tools to reach the victim:
We have defined such an approach as indirect cyberbullying to distinguish it from
direct cyberbullying and to emphasize the media-oriented character in such an act. In
this case, in fact, the new technological means are not used as a direct instrument of
communication from bully to victim but as a means for divulging and creating a
negative image of the victim with the aim of denigrating him and psychologically
destroying him. (Melotti et al., 2009, p. 82)
In this indirect mode, the Internet, mobile phones, and/or videophones are used for
obtaining rapid and effective defamation and the creation of a negative reputation for
the victim in the eyes of the peer group, and also in the eyes of an even more vast group,
the Internet. In this sense, Ortega, Elipe, Mora-Merchán, Calmaestra, and Vega (2009)
have found the emotional profiles of victims of cyberbullying are very similar to
victims of indirect bullying, yet different to those of victims of direct bullying. Victims
(25% of the total sample) were distributed in three groups: 60% victims of only
traditional bullying; 20% victims of only cyberbullying forms; 20% victims of both
traditional and cyberbullying simultaneously. Analyses were carried out by types of bul-
lying (traditional direct, traditional indirect, cyber mobile, cyber Internet).Multivictims
(those who suffered more than one type at the same time) were not considered.
From the above considerations we may infer that the theme of social reputation
(of bully and victim) is a central element in cyberbullying, and it can play a crucial
role in determining the effects of cyber-aggression.
Loneliness and Self-Esteem in Victims
In traditional bullying, victims report psychosocial problems such as anxiety,
depression, and withdrawal as well as lower self-esteem and feelings of loneliness
(Hazler, 1996; Haynie et al., 2001; Graham, Bellmore, & Mize, 2006). Gofi, Parti, and
Goldon (2002) reported that being bullied was associated with poor self-confidence,
feelings of loneliness, and difficulty in making friends among boys, and being
ignored by others and being excluded among girls. Nansel, Craig, Overpeck, Saluja, &
Ruan (2004) found that victims of bullying have poorer emotional adjustment
compared with bullies and uninvolved children.
Loneliness among children is not only related to overt (direct) victimization,
but perhaps especially to relational (indirect) victimization (Crick & Grotpeter,
1996). Ireland and Qualter (2008) argue that this association can also be explained
considering the nature of indirect aggression. Such aggression is largely based on
the ability of a perpetrator to utilize the social group to ostracize and exclude:
“It could be speculated that social loneliness would thus occur first with such
aggression (i.e., as the group excludes/ostracizes and makes the victim feel
unwelcome via their behavior), followed by emotional loneliness as the behavior
continues and the need for a close, supportive attachment figure is increased”
(Ireland & Qualter, 2008, p. 27).
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Self-Esteem, Loneliness, and Cyberbullying 37
The effects established for traditional bullying victimization may suggest similar
developmental trajectories for cybervictims: school problems, substance use, suicidal
ideation, eating disorders, depression, extreme violence toward themselves or other
individuals, and generally a serious threat to their psychological and physical
well-being (Hawker & Boulton, 2000; Card, 2007). But the nature of cyberbullying
may greatly expand the reach of victims by students who bully and augment the
intensity of interpersonal harm that occurs among this population. Little research
has explored the effects of a desynchronized relationship between the person who
perpetrates bullying and the victim, and the peculiar context where the person
who perpetrates bullying does not receive any direct emotional feedback from the
victim, as happens in the cyber context. The particular features of cyberbullying also
raises new questions, if we take into consideration the role of variables related to the
management of social reputation (Emler & Reicher, 1995).
Brighi, Genta, and Guarini (2008) compared victims of traditional bullying
(direct and indirect) with victims of cyberbullying along the dimensions of self-
esteem and loneliness in a sample of Italian students aged from 12 to 16. Cybervictims
scored higher than traditional bullying victims on some self-esteem measures—
Efficacy in Peer Relationships and Global Self-Evaluation (“I like the kind of person
I am”), and lower on Perceived Loneliness. A second comparison was done between
those participants who reported being both traditional and cybervictims (“poly-
victims”), and those not bullied in either way. Poly-victims scored lower in Body
Self-esteem, Peer Relationships, Family, and Global Self-Evaluation, and had higher
scores on Parent Low Support, Peer Low Support, and Affinity to Loneliness. The
results suggest that, for victims, the social exclusion experienced in “real world”
exchanges may be more psychologically demanding than those experienced in
virtual contexts. The high-risk group however is the “poly-victims.” Brighi et al.
(2008) point out the need for further research to investigate separately the victimi-
zation phenomenon across different forms of bullying (direct, indirect, cyber via
mobile, and cyber via the Internet) and to take into consideration the intensity of
the aggression reported (occasional versus severe). Moreover, it is necessary to
consider the possible outcomes on self-esteem and loneliness of different forms of
bullying, taking account of whether there is an attack to self reputation. In some
cyber-attacks the bullying action is not “confined” to the person who perpetrates
bullying and the victim, but is intentionally extended to a worldwide arena (for
example, when an embarrassing video is posted on YouTube).
Aims of This Study
The study reported here is part of an international project devised to investigate new
forms of bullying across Europe, with the partnership of four countries (Bologna
University, Italy; Goldsmiths College, London, UK; University of Cordoba, Spain;
and University of Turku, Finland) and one non-EU country (University of Tuzla,
Bosnia). It was funded by the European Commission through the DAPHNE II
Program. Here only the data from the Italy, Spain, and UK samples will be reported.
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38 Antonella Brighi et al.
The first aim was to analyze the effects of victimization (not involved, occasional
victim, and severe victim)2 in traditional bullying (direct and indirect) on self-
esteem and loneliness. We hypothesized that victims of traditional bullying would
feel lower self-esteem and report higher feelings of loneliness compared to peers not
involved in bullying.
The second aim was to investigate the effects of victimization in cyberbullying
(not involved, occasional victim, and severe victim) on self-esteem and loneliness.
We hypothesized, as for traditional bullying, that victims would feel lower self-
esteem and report higher feelings of loneliness compared to uninvolved peers.
The third aim was to analyze the effect of victimization in cyberbullying on self-
esteem and loneliness dimensions as a function of the presence of attacks to the
reputation of the victims. Following the hypothesis about the potential use of new
technologies to carry out attacks on the reputation of the victim, we selected those
students who had reported being victimized via videos on YouTube, blogs, and social
networks (such as a message or a movie posted on YouTube with embarrassing con-
tent).We hypothesized that they would have the lowest scores for self-esteem and a
worse attitude for loneliness compared to cybervictims where there was no attack to
reputation, as well as to uninvolved participants.
The last aim was to compare self-esteem and loneliness among victims of
traditional bullying, victims of cyberbullying, and poly-victims (victims of both
traditional bullying and cyberbullying). We hypothesized that the combination
of traditional and cyber-aggression suffered by such victims would result in lower
scores along all the dimensions of self-esteem and higher perceptions of loneliness,
especially in the relationships with parents and peers.
We were interested in investigating how the phenomenon of victimization can
assume different characteristics as a function of the following variables: the intensity
of the attack (not involved versus severe), the kind of context (traditional versus
cyberbullying), if an attack to reputation is implied or not, and the combined effect of
being victim in traditional and cyber context, so we will not discuss here in detail the
results concerning the role of gender, age, and country. We are aware that these varia-
bles may have an effect, as reported in the literature, but here we choose not to report
each interaction, since this would make the presentation of the results very complex.
The study involved 5862 students from secondary schools in Italy (n = 1964), the UK
(n = 2227), and Spain (n = 1671); altogether 2986 boys (51.2%) and 2847 girls
(48.8%). Three age ranges took part: 2077 students (35.5%) attended Year 8 (in the
English education system: around 12 years), 2074 pupils (35.4%) attended Year 10
(around 14 years) and 1704 pupils (29.1%) attended Year 12 (around 16 years).
Students with disabilities represented around 3% (n = 171) of the sample; none of
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Self-Esteem, Loneliness, and Cyberbullying 39
these students requested any support to complete the questionnaire. The adolescents
indicated that 14.5% (n = 794) of fathers and 12.8% of mothers (n = 718) did not
study beyond primary school; 41.7% of fathers (n = 2274) and 42.8% of mothers
(n = 2397) finished secondary school; and 43.8% of fathers (n = 2391) and 44.4% of
mothers (n = 2492) had one university degree or more.
The questionnaire was administered to the students by a researcher and investigated
forms of traditional and electronic bullying carried out by students. Brief defini-
tions of bullying and cyberbullying were given before specific questions so that
pupils had a clear understanding of the behaviors classified as bullying and cyber-
bullying and did not confuse them with other aggressive behaviors. Four questions
(one for each type of bullying) measured whether a student was bullied and/or
bullied others; the response options for each were on a five-point scale (scored 1 to 5):
“I haven’t been bullied/I haven’t bullied anyone”; “t has only happened once or
twice”; “two or three times a month”; “about once a week”; and “several times a
week”(see also Chapter 2). A second section contained scales to measure self-esteem
and loneliness. For the self-esteem measure the SEQ (Self-esteem questionnaire)
from DuBois, Felner, Brand, Phillips, and Lease (1996) was used with 18 items
obtained from the Italian version (Melotti & Passini, 2002). For loneliness, the LLCA
(Louvain Loneliness Scale for Children and Adolescents) (Marcoen, Goossens, &
Caes, 1987; Marcoen & Goossens, 1993) was adopted, using 12 items obtained from
the Italian version (Melotti, Corsano, Majorano, & Scarpuzzi, 2006).
The SEQ stems from a multidimensional concept of self-esteem and has been
used for preadolescents and adolescents. It measures six sub-scale dimensions: body
self-esteem, school self-esteem, family self-esteem, sport self-esteem, peer self-
esteem, and global self-esteem. This latter dimension is excluded from the factorial
analysis and was treated as a dependent variable in a regression model with the other
five dimensions as independent variables. In the reduced version adopted in this
study, each dimension is measured by the mean obtained from three items rated
on a four-point scale of agreement/disagreement (1 = totally disagree, 2 = disagree,
3 = agree, and 4 = totally agree).
The LLCA is constituted from four sub-scales:
1. Loneliness in relationships with parents (L-Parent): feelings of rejection,
abandonment, and desertion occurring within the relationships with parents;
2. Loneliness in relationships with peers (L-Peer): feelings of rejection, abandonment,
and desertion occurring within the relationships with peers;
3. Aversion to loneliness (A-Neg): a negative attitude to loneliness leading the
person concerned to seek to avoid moments when feeling alone;
4. Affinity for loneliness (A-Pos): a positive attitude to loneliness connected to
seeking times when able to remain alone.
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40 Antonella Brighi et al.
In the reduced version used in this study, each dimension is measured using the
mean obtained from three items rated over a four-point frequency scale (1 = never,
2 = seldom, 3 = sometimes, and 4 = often).
The multidimensional nature of this instrument differentiates the sense of social
isolation experienced in a family context (sub-scale L-Parent) and within the peer
group (L-Peer). The other two other sub-scales (A-Neg and A-Pos) investigate lone-
liness experienced negatively or positively, in the context of being alone generally;
this could discriminate subjects who reported loneliness as a condition to be actively
sought and desired from those who fear to be alone. In order to evaluate the validity
and consistency of each instrument, both the SEQ and LLCA were piloted.
For the SEQ, we first checked that the items relating to global self-esteem had a
satisfactory reliability; Cronbach’s alpha was found to be 0.69. We ran an Exploratory
Factor Analysis (EFA) on the remaining items with the method of maximum like-
lihood with direct oblimin rotation, hypothesizing that it would yield five factors
concerning self-esteem in the body, in school, in family, in sports activities, and in peer
relationships. The results confirmed this; see Table 3.1.
In order to test the hierarchic model of self-esteem as proposed by DuBois et al.
(1996), a linear regression analysis was conducted with global self-esteem as the
dependent variable and with self-esteem in body, school, family, sport, and peers as
predictors. The value of R2 = 0.50 confirms the proposed model, and the use of the
shortened version of our scale to measure self-esteem in a reliable way.
For the LLCA we ran an EFA with the method of maximum likelihood with direct
oblimin rotation, hypothesizing that it would yield four factors, as reported by the
original authors. The results shown in Table 3.2 confirm the hypothesis and suggest
that the reduced version of LLCA adopted in our study is a valid instrument for
Data were analyzed using SPSS for Windows, release version 17.0 (© SPSS, Inc.,
2001, Chicago, IL; www.spss.com). A set of descriptive analyses and nonparametric
analyses were used (Kruskall–Wallis), in order to deal with the non- normality of the
distribution. Then we ran ANOVA analyses which confirmed the results obtained by
nonparametric tests; for reasons of clarity were present here the ANOVA results,
since the output is easier to interpret, dealing with mean value and not with ranks.
In the composition of the victims’ sample, we excluded those subjects who reported
to be both victims and students who bully. Missing data were excluded from the
A general overview of mean values (range 1–4) along each dimension of the SEQ
showed that the young people in our sample evaluate themselves as “positive” with
regard to their body image (M = 2.87, SD = 0.68), their family relationships (M = 3.35,
SD = 0.60), in sport activities (M = 3.01, SD = 0.68), in peer relationships (M = 3.11,
SD = 0.52), and on global self-esteem (M = 3.17, SD = 0.51). By contrast, school
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Self-Esteem, Loneliness, and Cyberbullying 41
self-esteem had the lowest mean score (M = 2.76, SD = 0.66), very close to the neutral
point (M = 2.5). Examining gender differences, males report higher scores of self-
esteem across all the dimensions than girls; this is significant for all dimensions
except school self-esteem. Self-esteem scores decrease significantly across all
dimensions with decreasing age.
On the LLCA, the mean values of the four dimensions (range 1–4) show that our
students seldom experience feelings abandonment and loneliness from their parents
(M = 1.41, SD = 0.58) or from their peers (M = 1.54, SD = 0.64). They seldom search
actively for moments that they can be alone (A-Pos: M = 2.31, SD = 0.70), and seldom
find it difficult to cope with loneliness (A-Neg: M = 2.46, SD = 0.75). Examining gen-
der differences, males report significantly lower scores in the scales of L-Peers, A-Neg
Table 3.1 SEQ Factor Analysis: Structure Matrix Using Method of Maximum Likelihood,
With Direct Oblimin Rotation. Total Variance Explained: 60.0% (n = 5579).
Item Body School Family Sport Peers
7: I like my body just the way it is 0.91 0.28 0.28 0.46 0.39
3: I am happy with the way I look 0.74 0.26 0.26 0.41 0.41
11: I feel good about my height and weight 0.69 0.27 0.27 0.42 0.37
2: I am as good a student as I would like to be 0.27 0.84 0.28 0.17 0.20
16: I feel OK about how good a student I am 0.29 0.82 0.35 0.19 0.26
6: I am doing as well on school work as I would
0.28 0.78 0.32 0.18 0.27
18: I am happy with how much my family
0.24 0.27 0.81 0.19 0.30
14: My family pays enough attention to me 0.27 0.31 0.80 0.20 0.31
10: I get along as well as I would like to with
0.31 0.35 0.72 0.22 0.32
9: I feel OK about how well I do when I
participate in sports/physical activities
0.44 0.19 0.21 0.85 0.43
4: I am as good at sports/physical activities
as I want to be
0.45 0.14 0.16 0.81 0.37
12: I am happy about how many different kinds
of sports/physical activities I am good at
0.42 0.22 0.24 0.75 0.45
17: I feel good about how well I get along with
other people my own age
0.34 0.22 0.38 0.35 0.72
5: I am as good as I want to be at making new
0.30 0.17 0.21 0.34 0.65
13: I am as well liked by other people my own
age as I want to be
0.41 0.27 0.22 0.38 0.61
Note: Items for global self-esteem are in bold font in all tables: Item 1, “I am happy with the way I can
do most things”; item 8, “I like being just the way I am”; item 15, “I am the kind of person I want to be.”
Alpha values: School: 0.86; peers: 0.69; family: 0.81; body: 0.82; sport: 0.84; global: 0.69.
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42 Antonella Brighi et al.
Table 3.2 LLCA Factor Analysis. Structure Matrix Method of Maximum Likelihood, With
Direct Oblimin Rotation. Total Variance Explained: 53.1% (n = 5611).
Item L-peer L-parent A-neg A-pos
5: I feel left out by my friends 0.83 −0.21 0.23 0.33
3: I feel abandoned by my friends 0.82 −0.21 0.23 0.32
11: I feel sad because I have no friends 0.59 −0.15 0.18 0.23
7: My parents are ready to listen to me or to help me* 0.21 −0.83 0.06 0.17
9: My parents show real interest in me* 0.22 −0.82 0.07 0.17
1: My parents make time to pay attention to me* 0.18 −0.72 0.02 0.16
8: When I am lonely, I don’t know what to do 0.26 −0.07 0.72 0.03
2: When I am lonely, I feel bored 0.19 −0.04 0.72 −0.06
10: Time drags when I’m on my own 0.16 −0.03 0.65 −0.09
4: I want to be alone 0.33 −0.16 −0.10 0.72
6: I like being on my own 0.23 −0.09 −0.03 0.71
12: At home I like to be alone, so that I can do things
on my own
0.22 −0.17 −0.01 0.51
Note: *reverse coded. Alpha values: L-parent: 0.83; L-peer: 0.78; A-pos: 0.67; A-neg: 0.74.
and A-Pos. Examining age differences, L-Parents and A-Pos increase with age, while
A-Neg decreases; L-Peers shows a nonlinear trend, decreasing from Year 8 to Year 10
and then increasing again by Year 12.
Loneliness and Self-Esteem in Victims of Traditional Bullying
Several one-way ANOVAs were run in order to test the hypothesis that the victims
of traditional bullying would feel lower self-esteem and higher feelings of loneliness
compared to peers who are not involved in bullying. Tables 3.3 and 3.4 show results
for the two distinct forms of traditional bullying, direct and indirect.
As predicted, an inverse trend is observed from the SEQ between the severity of
bullying and the lowering of self-esteem. When the degree of victimization increases
from “not involved” or “occasional” to “severe,” there is a significant reduction in
scores along all the self-esteem subscales, with one exception: in victims of direct
bullying, school self-esteem did not follow this trend (Table 3.3). From the LLCA, as
the degree of victimization increases, feelings of loneliness (from peers and parents)
perceived by the victims increase as well, both for direct and indirect bullying.
An apparently puzzling result emerges: when the degree of victimization increased,
the victims showed an increase in their aversion to loneliness (A-Neg), but also an
increase for a positive evaluation of being alone (A-Pos). This indicates an ambivalent
attitude toward loneliness, with feelings both of affinity and aversion. A reason for
this could be that victims are often attacked by peers, and this leads to the isolation
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Self-Esteem, Loneliness, and Cyberbullying 43
Table 3.3 Effect of Victimization in Direct Traditional Bullying [Not Involved
(n = 4818), Occasional Victim (n = 554), and Severe Victim (n = 245)] on Self-Esteem and
Loneliness Dimensions (Using One-Way ANOVAs).
Victimization in direct bullying
size F p
Self-esteem (1 = totally disagree to 4 = totally agree)
Body 2.90 2.71 2.68 2 (5527) 28.09 <0.001
School 2.77 2.72 2.79 2 (5561) 1.20 n.s.
Family 3.37 3.26 3.21 2 (5554) 17.19 <0.001
Sport 3.03 2.92 2.84 2 (5541) 13.37 <0.001
Peers 3.14 2.96 2.76 2 (5529) 87.10 <0.001
Global 3.19 3.05 3.00 2 (5549) 34.85 <0.001
Loneliness dimensions (1 = never to 4 = often)
L-parent 1.38 1.49 1.60 2 (5550) 26.41 <0.001
L-peer 1.47 1.82 2.22 2 (5526) 235.96 <0.001
A-neg 2.44 2.59 2.62 2 (5538) 16.80 <0.001
A-pos 2.28 2.39 2.55 2 (5548) 21.44 <0.001
Note: Df = degrees of freedom; the number in parentheses is the number of subjects in each
sub-sample. The same applies to all subsequent tables in this chapter.
Table 3.4 Effect of Victimization in Indirect Traditional Bullying [Not Involved
(n = 4575), Occasional Victim (n = 775), and Severe Victim (n = 257)] on Self-Esteem and
Loneliness Dimensions (Using One-Way ANOVAs).
Victimization in indirect bullying
size F p
Self-esteem (1 = totally disagree to 4 = totally agree)
Body 2.91 2.71 2.59 2 (5517) 52.27 <0.001
School 2.78 2.73 2.61 2 (5554) 10.42 <0.001
Family 3.38 3.27 3.12 2 (5547) 31.34 <0.001
Sport 3.03 2.91 2.77 2 (5531) 26.64 <0.001
Peers 3.14 3.01 2.75 2 (5519) 81.75 <0.001
Global 3.20 3.06 2.95 2 (5540) 51.49 <0.001
Loneliness dimensions (1 = never to 4 = often)
L-parent 1.37 1.45 1.60 2 (5542) 24.65 <0.001
L-peer 1.46 1.77 2.12 2 (5518) 204.41 <0.001
A-neg 2.44 2.53 2.60 2 (5530) 9.24 <0.001
A-pos 2.27 2.40 2.61 2 (5539) 36.56 <0.001
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44 Antonella Brighi et al.
Table 3.5 Effect of Victimization in Cyberbullying [Not Involved (n = 5117), Occasional
Victim (n = 435), and Severe Victim (n = 125)] on Self-Esteem and Loneliness Dimensions
(Using One-Way ANOVAs).
Victimization in cyberbullying
size F p
Self-esteem (1 = totally disagree to 4 = totally agree)
Body 2.90 2.69 2.58 2 (5590) 29.66 <0.001
School 2.78 2.60 2.53 2 (5626) 22.33 <0.001
Family 3.37 3.23 2.91 2 (5619) 45.74 <0.001
Sport 3.02 2.88 2.87 2 (5606) 11.11 <0.001
Peers 3.12 3.03 2.97 2 (5594) 10.75 <0.001
Global 3.19 3.04 2.95 2 (5607) 28.44 <0.001
Loneliness dimensions (1 = never to 4 = often)
L- Parent 1.38 1.47 1.92 2 (5613) 59.77 <0.001
L-Peer 1.51 1.66 1.93 2 (5588) 37.37 <0.001
A-Neg 2.45 2.53 2.60 2 (5599) 4.46 0.012
A-Pos 2.29 2.45 2.48 2 (5607) 14.94 <0.001
of victims, who suffer accordingly. This could explain the aversion to loneliness
(A-Neg). At the same time, when attacks are more intense, victims may tend to avoid
social interactions, preferring to remain alone than with peers who are potential
offenders, justifying the higher scores in the affinity for loneliness (A-Pos) reported
by victims of “severe” bullying. So, while social withdrawal is an outcome for a
victim, it is also a defensive strategy chosen intentionally to avoid further aggression.
Further support for this idea comes from paired t-tests between affinity (A-Pos) and
aversion (A-Neg) to loneliness which found no significant statistical differences in
victims of severe direct bullying (t245 = 1.17, n.s.) and victims of indirect bullying
(t257 = 0.85, n.s.).
Self-esteem and loneliness in victims of cyberbullying
Several one-way ANOVAs were used to test the hypothesis that cybervictims could
feel lower self-esteem and higher feelings of loneliness than traditional bullying
victims. The results, shown in Table 3.5, reveal that when the degree of cyber-
victimization increases, self-esteem decreases, while feelings of loneliness from
parents and peers increase.
As for traditional victims, the results show a parallel increase for both affinity
(A-Pos) and aversion (A-Neg) to loneliness (paired t-test for A-Pos and A-Neg:
Severe victims x
aversion = 2.60, x
affinity = 2.48, t = 1.49, df = 125, p = 0.14) differently from
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Self-Esteem, Loneliness, and Cyberbullying 45
what was reported by not involved students (paired t-test for A-Pos and A-Neg: not
aversion = 2.45, x
affinity = 2.29, t = 11.00, df = 5117, p < 0.001).
Cybervictims: Loneliness and self-esteem in a sub-sample
of subjects who received attacks to reputation
Sub-samples of victims were selected through analysis of the responses to items
concerning the kind of cybervictimization experienced. We selected those students
who had reported being victimized via modalities such as denigration diffused by
video on YouTube, blogs, and social networks.
Several one-way ANOVAs were run comparing students who were not involved,
cybervictims who received no attacks to their reputation, cybervictims who received
occasional attacks to their reputation and victims who reported severe attacks to
their reputation. The results, shown in Table 3.6, show that self-esteem scores
decrease as a function of the received attacks to reputation, with pupils who reported
receiving attacks to reputation showing the lowest scores. LLCA scores show that
severe victims show significantly higher scores than those in the other subgroups,
denoting the worst experience with solitude and, indirectly, a higher risk condition.
Table 3.6 Effect of Victimization in Cyberbullying [Not Involved (n = 5378), Victim
Without Attacks to Reputation (n = 270), Occasional Victim With Attacks to Reputation
(n = 79), and Severe Victim With Attacks to Reputation (n = 33)] on Self-Esteem and
Loneliness Dimensions (Using One-Way ANOVAs).
Victimization in cyberbullying
size F p
Self-esteem (1 = totally disagree to 4 = totally agree)
Body 2.89 2.69 2.52 2.27 3 (5668) 23.06 <0.001
School 2.77 2.59 2.46 2.45 3 (5705) 214.24 <0.001
Family 3.37 3.18 3.15 2.67 3 (5699) 25.57 <0.001
Sport 3.02 2.88 2.63 2.77 3 (5686) 13.14 <0.001
Peers 3.12 3.03 2.92 2.72 3 (5671) 11.35 <0.001
Global 3.18 3.03 2.94 2.77 3 (5687) 20.43 <0.001
Loneliness dimensions (1 = never to 4 = often)
L- parent 1.39 1.58 1.49 2.09 3 (5694) 27.42 <0.001
L-Ppeer 1.52 1.68 1.69 2.28 3 (5668) 22.90 <0.001
A-neg 2.45 2.54 2.55 2.78 3 (5680) 3.72 0.011
A-pos 2.29 2.40 2.59 2.70 3 (5688) 9.65 <0.001
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46 Antonella Brighi et al.
Here too, when cybervictimization increases and includes damage to reputation,
the scores for affinity to loneliness (A-Pos) and aversion to loneliness (A-Neg) get
closer and become higher, so that the difference is no longer significant. Moreover in
the case of occasional victims (t79 = 0.19, p > 0.05) and severe victims (t33 = 0.34, p > 0.05)
with attacks to reputation, the score of loneliness affinity (A-Pos) are actually
higher than those for loneliness aversion (L-Neg), although the difference is
Comparison among victims of traditional bullying, victims of
cyberbullying, and poly-victims (both traditional and cyberbullying)
The last aim was to investigate the perception of self-esteem and loneliness among
victims of traditional bullying, victims of cyberbullying, and poly-victims (victims
of both traditional and cyberbullying). The victim group was divided into three
subgroups: “only traditional bullying victims,” “only cyberbullying victims,” and
“victims of both traditional and cyberbullying.” Then these subgroups were
compared through one-way ANOVAs on LLCA and SEQ subscales.
The results reported in Table 3.7 confirm, in part, the hypothesis: the poly-victim
group reported significantly lower scores along almost all the dimensions of SEQ,
but not in school self-esteem (the difference between the three groups here was not
Table 3.7 Effect of Severe* Victimization [Victim of Traditional Bullying (n = 362), Victim
of Cyberbullying (n = 81), and Victim of Both Traditional and Cyberbullying (n = 60)] on
Self-Esteem and Loneliness Dimensions (Using One-Way ANOVAs).
size F p
Self-esteem (1 = totally disagree to 4 = totally agree)
Body 2.64 2.74 2.42 2 (490) 2.76 0.06
School 2.68 2.56 2.57 2 (496) 1.55 n.s.
Family 3.23 3.03 2.83 2 (490) 9.75 0.000
Sport 2.82 3.05 2.64 2 (492) 4.91 0.008
Peers 2.78 3.13 2.79 2 (491) 10.05 0.000
Global 2.98 3.08 2.82 2 (493) 2.35 0.04
Loneliness dimensions (1 = never to 4 = often)
L- parent 1.52 1.75 2.03 2 (498) 14.87 0.000
L-peer 2.08 1.79 2.13 2 (489) 4.49 0.01
A-neg 2.60 2.57 2.51 2 (496) 0.28 n.s.
A-pos 2.54 2.31 2.74 2 (495) 5.55 0.004
Note: This table only presents a comparison between severe victims of traditional bullying, cyberbullying,
and victims of both traditional and cyberbullying. We excluded from the analysis victims who also
reported being bullies.
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Self-Esteem, Loneliness, and Cyberbullying 47
statistically significant, although the trend was similar to that found for the other
Moreover, poly-victims had higher LLCA scores in all dimensions, although the
three groups did not differ significantly in the aversion scale (A-Neg).
These findings, based on an extensive sample of nearly 6000 students aged 12–16
years, confirm some of our hypotheses, and some previous findings related to
traditional bullying and self-esteem, but also yield some new findings related to
cyberbullying, and also to the dimensions of loneliness not previously investigated
in relation to victimization. Our first aim was to analyze the effects of victimization
in direct and indirect traditional bullying on self-esteem and loneliness. We
hypothesized that victims of traditional bullying would feel lower self-esteem and
report higher feelings of loneliness than their peers who were not involved in
bullying. This was generally confirmed (see Tables 3.3 and 3.4). A number of
previous studies have shown that victimization is significantly associated with poor
self-concept (Slee & Rigby, 1993; Boulton & Smith, 1994; Neary & Joseph, 1994;
Callaghan & Joseph, 1995; Grills & Ollendick, 2002). A meta-analysis conducted by
Hawker and Boulton (2000) found that victimization was moderately associated
with lower social and global self-esteem. Our data show a relationship between
frequency of victimization and a decrease in self-esteem, and this was true both for
direct and indirect bullying; it was also true for all the dimensions of self-esteem
measured here, with one exception. For direct bullying there was no significant
relationship between victimization and school self-esteem; victims do not feel bad
in their role as a student or in their schoolwork, which may be considered
independently of their social self-esteem. Interestingly, there was such a relationship
for indirect bullying, a finding that deserves further investigation. In general, the
scores for self-esteem were lower for victims of (severe) indirect bullying, compared
to victims of severe direct bullying. In interpreting these results, we should also
consider the gender of the victims involved in the two kinds of bullying, since the
literature reports some evidence of girls being more affected by indirect bullying
and boys more by direct bullying (Genta, Brighi, & Guarini, 2009). Given that it has
been reported that adolescent girls typically begin to experience a decrease in self-
esteem, whereas the self-esteem of boys typically increases or stays the same
(Rosenberg, 1985; McLeod & Owens, 2004), the differences in the two samples could
be due to the larger number of girls affected by indirect victimization. It could be
also that the pervasiveness of indirect bullying, which necessarily involves the
victim’s social network (schoolmates, friends, etc.) may affect self-esteem in a more
substantial way than direct bullying.
Our data do not allow us to make a causal link between low self-esteem and
victimization, but a number of previous studies on traditional bullying provide
some evidence for such a link (Kochenderfer & Ladd, 1996; Troop-Gordon & Ladd,
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48 Antonella Brighi et al.
2005; Arsenault et al., 2006) or for victimization and low self-esteem being related in
a bi-directional way (Egan & Perry, 1998; Kochenderfer-Ladd & Wardrop, 2001),
consistent with transactional models of development (Sameroff, 1987). Salmivalli
and Isaacs (2005), in a longitudinal study of 11–13-year-old Finnish pupils over one
year, found that negative self-perception did predict peer-nominated victim status,
and victim status in turn predicted more negative perceptions of peers (how peers
thought about them), although not more negative self-perceptions.
Also as expected, we found that severity of victimization was associated with
higher feelings of loneliness, both for loneliness with peers and loneliness with
parents. This was true both for direct and indirect victimization, but direct
victimization has a greater relationship with loneliness with peers, compared to
severe indirect victimization. It is also worth noting that indirect victimization has a
more negative relationship with family self-esteem than direct victimization (see
Tables 3.3 and 3.4). Again, if such a link is replicated, any causal direction is open to
question; it may be that pupils with poor family relationships are more likely to get
involved with or be vulnerable to indirect (often relational) bullying, or it may be
that indirect victimization has some impact on family relationships (more than
For both direct and indirect victimization, frequency is associated with both
positive and negative feelings about loneliness, indicating a more ambivalent
attitude. Victims, very often, receive attacks from peers that result in the isolation of
the victim, who suffers in this situation. This could explain the aversion to loneliness
(A-Neg). At the same time, when attacks are more intense, victims may have the
tendency to avoid social interactions, preferring to remain alone than with peers
who are potential offenders, justifying the higher scores in the affinity for loneliness
(A-Pos) reported by severe victims. So, victims withdraw socially, perhaps as a
defensive strategy to avoid further aggressive behavior.
Our second aim was to investigate the effects of victimization in cyberbullying
on self-esteem and loneliness. We hypothesized, as for traditional bullying, that
victims would feel lower self-esteem and report higher feelings of loneliness than
not involved peers. This was confirmed as a negative relationship between
frequency of cybervictimization and all the measures of self-esteem and loneli-
ness (see Table 3.5). Comparing Table 3.5 with Tables 3.3 and 3.4, it can be seen
that the relationships for self-esteem are similar, but for cybervictimization the
relationship tends to be stronger (compared to traditional bullying) for family
self-esteem, but not so strong for peer self-esteem (which is lower in the two
forms of traditional bullying when compared to cyberbullying). This trend is
consistent with findings for loneliness, where the negative relationship is greater
for loneliness with parents in cybervictimization, but greater for loneliness with
peers in traditional victimization. Again this finding deserves replication and
further investigation, but may give interesting indications of differing motives for,
or impacts of, traditional and cybervictimization, as well as a possible differential
role of parental support across the context where bullying takes place. It is possi-
ble that feelings of efficacy in family relationships could reflect different levels of
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Self-Esteem, Loneliness, and Cyberbullying 49
reciprocal involvement among family members, which could also imply lower
parental monitoring of adolescents’ activity on the Internet and longer periods of
time spent online by adolescents, thus increasing the possibility of receiving
Some research confirms this assumption, since it has demonstrated an association
between positive parenting styles and a “healthy” use of the Internet in adolescence
while, by contrast, lack of emotional involvement, lack of parental monitoring, and
an authoritative or neglectful parenting style is associated with online harassment.
Li Lei and Wu (2007) investigated how the use of the Internet is associated with
individual differences in father–adolescent attachment in China. Pathological use of
the Internet was positively associated with alienation, and negatively with trust and
communication. Adolescents who experience alienation from their fathers can lack
social abilities and appropriate strategies of coping in a real-world context. As a
consequence they may consolidate relationships online, spending a lot of time on
the Internet, which renders them more vulnerable to negative experiences. This may
also be the case for cybervictims, who can be more exposed to virtual interaction,
increasing their risk of being exposed to cyberbullying and reducing, at the same
time, their already poor ability to interact in a real-world context. Smith et al. (2008)
found in an English sample that being a cybervictim (but not a cyberbully) correlated
with high Internet use.
Our third aim was to analyze the effect of victimization in cyberbullying on self-
esteem and loneliness as a function of attacks to the reputation of the victims. We
hypothesized that students who reported being victimized via modalities such as
denigration diffused by video on social networking sites would have the lowest
scores for self-esteem and a poorer attitude to loneliness compared to cybervictims
where there was no attack to reputation, as well as to not involved participants. This
was confirmed, as shown in Table 3.6. There is in most cases a strong relationship,
and the self-esteem scores for severe victims with attacks to reputation are particularly
low. Comparing Table 3.6 with Tables 3.3, 3.4, and 3.5, it can be seen that these
victims have noticeably lower self-esteem than severe victims of direct, indirect, or
general cyberbullying, for all dimensions. Also, severe cybervictims with attacks to
their reputation have markedly higher loneliness scores with both parents and peers,
and highly ambivalent attitudes to loneliness.
Social networking sites potentially provide a large audience of peers who may see
denigrating and abusive material about a victim. This can have very damaging
effects for the victim. Although we cannot be certain of cause and effect, it is a
plausible hypothesis that such acts do cause suffering, as exemplified by low self-
esteem and loneliness (it may also be plausible that a lonely child is more likely to
have denigrating material posted about him on social networking sites). Smith et al.
(2008) and Slonje and Smith (2008) found that so-called “happy slapping”
(circulating of nasty or malicious videoclips on mobile phones) was perceived by
young people (in England and in Sweden) as having a very strong negative impact
on the victim, and this was often ascribed to the potentially large audience and the
consequent damage to reputation of the victim.
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50 Antonella Brighi et al.
Cyberbullying using social networking sites may be on the increase, as the
popularity of such sites has increased rapidly in recent years (Nielsen Online, 2010).
The negative impact of this may be amplified by the potentially larger audience
seeing such negative material. These results suggest that the management of
reputation during adolescence may be a crucial task for adolescents, as suggested by
Emler and Reicher (1995), and ICT contexts may denote a new scenario where
young people have to deal with new challenges to their own reputation.
Our fourth aim was to compare self-esteem and loneliness among victims of
traditional bullying, victims of cyberbullying, and poly-victims (victims of both
traditional bullying and cyberbullying). We hypothesized that poly-victims would
have lower scores along all the dimensions of self-esteem, and higher perceptions of
loneliness than victims of only traditional (summing over direct and indirect), or
only cyberbullying. This was broadly confirmed, as shown in Table 3.7. Poly-victims’
scores were lower on all dimensions except for school self-esteem. A similar finding
was reported by Ybarra and Mitchell (2004). It is possible that, since the items linked
to school self-esteem evaluate the level of satisfaction reached in academic tasks, the
victims in this sample could have been identified from some peers as the outstand-
ing students in the group, and become a target of attacks. Concerning aversion to
loneliness (A-Neg), our data show there are no differences among the three groups
of victims, but there are differences between nonvictims and victims. This suggests
that, regardless of the different kinds of bullying (traditional, cyber, or both), the
attack can produce a real sense of isolation in the victim which is perceived as a
strong fear of being rejected by her peers. Peers act as a “mirror for the self” (Mead,
1934), contributing to the widening of personal experiences of the adolescent, and
are with her from childhood to adult life. For this reason, being excluded by their
peers can be very traumatic for adolescents.
Our findings provide some new insights into the likely impacts of cybervictimiza-
tion, and suggestions for further research. An important limitation of our study is
reliance on self-reports for all measures, with the possibility of shared method
variance. Also, we lack longitudinal data, and thus cannot make inferences about the
causal direction of effects. However, the sample is large, allowing satisfactory power
even for smaller subgroup analyses (our smallest subgroup, cybervictims with severe
attacks to their reputation, still had 33 pupils). An important suggestion for further
research is to examine what appears to be a greater link with relationships to parents
in cybervictimization, but with relationships to peers in traditional victimization. The
likely severe effects of cyber-attacks on reputation are also an important finding.
It is important to highlight that these results, even if stimulating, need further
investigations, since our study did not account for clustering of students by school,
age, and gender. Another variable to be taken into consideration in further analysis
is cultural differences between countries, which may affect students’ perceptions of
Our findings suggest some hints for intervention. First, too often teachers,
researchers, educators, and psychologists tend to adopt intervention strategies based
mainly on a descriptive level of analysis and assuming the continuity of roles (bully,
victim, bully-victim, bystander) over time and across different contexts without
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Self-Esteem, Loneliness, and Cyberbullying 51
trying to understand the complex plot of different factors which define each context
(and each person) as unique. We suggest, instead, adopting a systemic perspective
that could interpret the victimization phenomenon as a developmental outcome,
the aetiology of which should be rooted in a complex interplay of individual and
contextual variables along the development continuum (Bronfenbrenner, 1979,
1992). In this sense, we think it would be helpful to integrate into theoretical
approaches suggestions arising from studies inspired by “developmental psycho-
pathology” (Sroufe & Rutter, 1984; Cicchetti, 1989; Rutter, 1990; Rolf, Masten,
Cicchetti, Neuchterlein, & Weintraub, 1990; Sroufe, 1990; Cicchetti & Aber, 1998), a
discipline which integrates contributions from different areas of psychology
(developmental, clinical, and social psychology) as well as psychiatry, sociology, and
epidemiology. Its contextualist and interactionist approach suggests a focus on risk
and protective factors which underlie positive and negative adjustments along the
individual developmental trajectories, investigating both “normal” and atypical
development. This theoretical approach, applied to bullying phenomena, could
highlight the risk processes underlying not only the bullying behaviors and the risk
conditions experienced by the victims, but also the experiences of those not involved
in the bullying. This would allow the researchers to design interventions that can
account for the complexity and the specificity of each context in which bullying
takes place. According to this perspective, intervention programs should help the
whole class to reflect upon the identity dimensions implied in bullying behavior, or
to help the group to weaken the positive representation associated with bullying.
Second, those responsible for managing new media should be sensitive to the
potential risks of some messages, and should work to limit their function as ampli-
fiers of the social reputation of those persons who perpetrate bullying, for example,
giving less coverage to news that shows adolescents acting aggressively. The media
often report realistic factual acts of bullying which are rare events in real life, or they
allow the diffusion of humiliating content without any kind of filter. Some editors
and website managers do spontaneously adopt “self-censorship” in this respect, but
we think that Europe should push for more prescriptive rules.
Also, privacy and anonymity, which are a feature of many exchanges on the
Internet, should be discussed further. There is a debate among Internet users con-
cerning issues of regulation and anonymity, with the risk that any form of “control”
may lead to limitations in the freedom of the Internet. It is not our aim to point to
solutions to this problem, but our contribution, as researchers, is to underline that
some groups of people, such as isolated adolescents, may experience real threats in
virtual worlds that may increase their psychological vulnerability, feeding a vicious
circle with an unpredictable outcome.
This research was funded by a grant from the EU DAPHNE II Program to
the Department of Psychology at the University of Bologna and coordinated by
M. L. Genta. We are grateful to the many people who helped to collect data for each
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52 Antonella Brighi et al.
country; for Italy we would like to thank Drs. E. Buccoliero, S. Nicoletti, F. Gallingani,
S. Passini, and L. Berdondini; and for England, Mr. Neil Tippett. Grateful thanks are
also due to the Regional Observatory of Regione Emilia Romagna, and to all the
teachers and students who took part in the research.
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