Laura’s Psychology Blog

One Professor’s Observations of the World of Psychology….   

May 30, 2008

The cyberbully….

Filed under: General Psychology,Internet,Psychology — Laura Freberg @ 10:21 pm

I guess it’s a sign of the times that a PsychInfo search on “bullies” returns 837 studies, most of which are rather recent. Bullies have always been among us, but their tactics now reflect the new technologies available to them. Traditional bullying includes physical, verbal, relational (social exclusion), and indirect (spreading rumors) [1]. With the exception of the physical, these techniques can now be applied using technology, including cell phones and the Internet.

How have these technologies changed the bullying dynamic? Smith et al. (2008) report that cyberbullying is less frequent than traditional bullying, and more likely to occur outside of school than in school. While less frequent, cyberbullying appears to have the same impact on the victims, with video cyberbullying having the most negative outcomes. These cases involved the distribution of abusive photos or videos of the victim to a peer group. The cybervictims and cyberbullies had many of the same characteristics as traditional victims and bullies. A particularly disturbing aspect of the focus groups conducted by Smith et al. was the frequently stated belief that cyberbullies were motivated by the “entertainment” value of their bullying behavior.

Kowalski and Limber (2007) looked at cyberbullies in American middle schools, instead of the British 11-16 year-olds in the Smith et al. study. Many of the findings were similar [2]. One of the interesting differences was in the anonymity of the bullies. In the British sample, only 20 percent bullied anonymously, but more than half of the Americans bullied anonymously. I have often believed that anonymous posting on message boards was likely to lead to deindividuation, which in turn would result in more antisocial behavior.

Both studies emphasize that cyberbullying is a significant and frequent phenomenon. Of the American middle schoolers, 11% reported being cyberbullied in the previous couple of months, 7% had been both bullies and victims, and 4% had bullied without being a victim.

Strategies for dealing with bullying, cyber or traditional, often seem inadequate to the task. Yes, we can raise adult awareness, and provide our children with strategies for dealing with the problem. But I don’t think we’re going to make it go away. As a parent, I found it very difficult to watch my daughter criticized harshly on track and field message boards not just by her peers, but by adults who should have known better. I kept thinking, “This is a kid.” But Karen simply waved her hand and dismissed them as jealous wannabees. I was very proud of her for being able to do that, and I think it made her much more confident and mature.

Smith, P.K., Mahdavi, J., Carvalho, M., Fisher, S., Russell, S., Tippett, N. (2008). Cyberbullying: its nature and impact in secondary school pupils. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 49(4), 376-385. DOI: 10.1111/j.1469-7610.2007.01846.x KOWALSKI, R., LIMBER, S. (2007). Electronic Bullying Among Middle School Students. Journal of Adolescent Health, 41(6), S22-S30. DOI: 10.1016/j.jadohealth.2007.08.017

May 26, 2008

Memorial Day….

Filed under: Avocations,Hobbies,Random Fun — Laura Freberg @ 2:54 pm

I hope that everyone takes a minute away from the barbeque and the beach to remember our soldiers today.

Mr. F was in Hawaii this week to visit our own favorite soldier. Kristin had her Change of Command ceremony after serving as company commander for over 25 months. Her soldiers gifted her with a signed Jolly Roger flag (her company liked to yell “Arrghhh” frequently), among other more serious things. Now she gets to enjoy some well-deserved time off before heading off to her next assignment.

Mr. F and I frequently tag-team our daughters, who always seem to be off and doing interesting things, and it was his turn to travel. Not only had I been able to see the Change of Command when Kristin took over command, but I also needed to do that thing called my day job. Poor Mr. F went directly from his flight from Hawaii to San Luis Obispo onto our flight to Chicago for APS. He’s very happy to be home, although it was a terrific week!

Here’s Mr. F’s view of the latest Change of Command.

May 25, 2008

“Anyone Can Blog” Symposium at APS….and much more to tell

Look carefully, and you will see outgoing APS President John Cacioppo.

This year’s APS Conference in Chicago was the best one I’ve attended. I’m told that the APS has only 17 full-time staffers, compared to hundreds for APA, but the conference moved along very smoothly. Before our symposium, no less that three different people came in to make sure we had the audiovisual equipment we needed, and there were quite a few symposia running at the same time.

It was fun to meet John Grohol, Greta and Dave Munger, and Wray Herbert in person, after all of our “virtual” conversations in the last five months or so. All are doing very creative things with their blogs.

John has somehow found time this weekend to post about Frank Schmidt’s APS Award Address, “How to detect and correct the lies that data tell.” I think Professor Schmidt would get along just fine with my dissertation advisor, Robert Rescorla. In Bob’s lab, if you graphed your data and the significance of your results didn’t just slap you in the face, no fancy statistical manipulations would be used to save the day. You scrapped your work and tried again.

Mr. F and I listened to Ed Diener’s “Teaching the new science of well-being.” Professor Diener does indeed seem to practice what he preaches, and his talk was humorous and entertaining. Mr. F and I, who consider ourselves happy people, found that we didn’t conform to ALL of the rules for happy people. Mr. F is definitely a “cup is half full” person, while I am not. On the other hand, Mr. F’s motto is that “trust must be earned,” and I get teased for thinking well of people even when the evidence does not support my opinions, like Jane Bennett in Pride and Prejudice. So I guess it evens out.

Okay, back to blogging. We will be posting the powerpoint for our presentation here shortly, after we resolve a few technical difficulties (it’s always harder to do this away from home). Our audience was enthusiastic, and asked some challenging questions, such as how far along does a paper have to be before we publicize it in our blogs? Greta Munger spoke for the group in saying that we wanted to talk about peer reviewed articles. Peer review is still such an important part of the process. Faculty members in the audience were looking for new ways to use blogs to interact with students and improve their scientific writing abilities. I’m coming home with many new ideas!

Here is our presentation!

Speaking of new ideas, Wray Herbert not only writes the “We’re Only Human” blog for the APS, but he has a whole new project called A Day in the Life.” Here you will meet the Maxwell family in an interactive and creative website. I clicked on Peter, the dad, and read a story about how he thought he blew a performance with his band although his family thought he did great. These stories are used to illustrate psychological principles. This is quite a bold experiment for Wray and APS in their quest to put the science of psychology in the hands of the public, and I’ll be following this one to see where it goes. I cannot imagine the amount of time that this represents.

Dave Munger previewed his new project, Research Blogging, a site that “helps you locate and share academic blog posts about peer-reviewed research.” So if any of you are blogging about scientific research (not just psychology), register at Dave’s site, and your posts will soon have a much wider audience. That’s definitely on my to-do list here as the conference winds down.

Matt Hutson of Psychology Today joined us in the audience, and announced their new blog program. Psych Today is hosting over 70 new psychology blogs, after just 3 months of starting a blog program. If you want to blog about psychology, talk to Matt, and Psych Today might be able to host your blog. Their blogs cover a lot of different ground, from a blogger with Asperger’s to a forensic psychologist to an evolutionary psychologist. There is a LOT of content there, so be prepared to spend some fun time searching around.

We also had fun hanging out with the Houghton Mifflin staff at their booth. My book had a “New Edition Coming Soon” sticker on it–no pressure, no pressure. We shared a delightful dinner with outgoing APS President extraordinaire John Cacioppo and some of his marvelous students and colleagues from the University of Chicago. Mr. F was exchanging cooking tips–something about a lamb dish–with Gün Semin of the Royal Netherlands Academy for Arts and Sciences at the Universiteit Utrecht. John says he’s really not a chocolate fan, but Mr. F is going to send him some of his Peter’s chocolate, and the members of his lab seemed to think this was a very good idea. If this doesn’t make a person into a chocoholic, nothing will.

We were all having such a good time, plus I am selectively time-zone impaired and can never keep track of time in other places, that we actually got back to our hotel at about 1:30 a.m. Mr. F had to be up a 5 a.m. to get to the airport, and we got last minute calls from Kristin and Karen on their way to Beijing. John C. had been to Beijing recently, and had lots of great tips that we passed along to the girls. I think I had about 2 1/2 hours of sleep. My students will laugh about this–I’m always preaching no sleep deprivation to them. I don’t think I’ve ever worked so hard on a presentation as I did this morning!

All in all, it was a great convention. Next year’s is in San Francisco, a much easier commute for us. If you attend, come by and say hello!

May 20, 2008

Are schools fair to boys?

The American Association of University Women (AAUW) has just published a new report entitled “Where the Girls Are” that concludes that schools are not handicapping boys in order to address perceived gaps in education for girls. They conclude:

“Educational achievement is not a zero-sum game, in which a gain for one group results in a corresponding loss for the other. If girls’ success comes at the expense of boys, one would expect to see boys’ scores decline as girls’ scores rise, but this has not been the case.”

Perhaps not, but are SATs the whole story? My biggest concern as an educator is the declining enrollment among young men in college. In this previous post, I noted that the official student profile report published by the California Postsecondary Education Commission reports that enrollment by women in the CSU, of which Cal Poly is a part, grew from 53.2% to 57% between 1993 and 2003. In the University of California system, enrollment by women grew from 50.6% to 53.5% over the same period.

If schools are so great for guys, as the AAUW claims, why are their college enrollment numbers dropping?

If we have schools largely staffed by women and run according to female rules, is it any wonder males don’t want to play? My all-time favorite symptom from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual is for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder: “Often gets up from seat when remaining in seat is expected.” Isn’t it easier to change your expectations about remaining seated than to diagnose and treat a psychological disorder?

In itself, this “symptom” shows a lack of understanding of physiology. Five-year-old boys already have about 40% more muscle mass than 5-year-old girls, and the body works according to a “use it or lose it” rule. But we’ve all been taught the 70s mantra that any differences between males and females are socialized, so we should be able to socialize activity levels out of males.

At the college level, I am astonished to hear from my students about the “male-bashing” that takes place in classrooms. If you substitute another “group” name into statements about men, people would be horrified, yet it seems “okay” to say anything negative you want about males. I wouldn’t want to sit in class and hear those things about myself, either.

So I hope that other researchers continue the work of the AAUW, but remember to look beyond test scores to how people are treated as people. Or not.


May 17, 2008

New technologies and language skills…

Filed under: Internet,Psychology,Teaching Psychology,Videogames — Laura Freberg @ 9:23 am

Over the 30 years plus that I’ve been teaching, I’ve seen a reflection of what’s happening in the elementary and secondary classrooms in California. There have been ups and downs. Among the “downs” were the cohorts of students who had no clue whatsoever about the differences between “there,” “their,” and “they’re,” and used them interchangeably. More recently, I have seen students incomprehensibly using “apostrophe s” in order to make plurals, as in “cat’s” instead of “cats.” I have no idea why anyone past the first grade would make such an error, but this is so common, it must have an origin somewhere in the collective experience of these young adults.

Some people might be tempted to blame writing errors on new technologies. A colleague in the English department attributed the “there–their–they’re” issue to our “auditory” culture in which young people do not read, but merely listen. That may have been true ten or fifteen years ago, but I see new technologies as boosting, not hindering, student reading and writing. One of my students indicated that he and his buddies “aced” their middle school vocabulary tests because many of the more obscure words had been used in the videogames they played. They all knew the word “flask,” and not because they were early alcoholics.

I also know my students are reading, not listening, because there are some simple words that they use correctly, but do not know how to pronounce. If they were only listening, these errors would not occur. The Internet, IM, blogs, and videogames all require intense reading and writing. We should be getting better, not worse.

So I was pleased to see that my local observations were confirmed by a paper by Sali Tagliamonte and Derek Denis that showed that instant messaging represents “an expansive new linguistic renaissance.” Contrary to the fears of parents and teachers, IM messages were actually more formal than spoken language, and abbreviations such as LOL were used only 2.4 percent of the time. Their article is to appear in American Speech this Spring.

I think it’s safe to say that between Harry Potter and new technologies, we professors can look forward to working with an increasingly literate student population.

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