Access Type

Open Access Dissertation

Date of Award

January 2014

Degree Type


Degree Name



Educational Psychology

First Advisor

Jina Yoon


The purpose of the study was to examine defending and verbal bullying and the role of social cognitive variables, including empathy, values, moral disengagement, and efficacy among middle school students. Middle school students (n=282) in grades 6 through 8 in an urban public school district in Michigan participated in the study. Data were collected using a self-report survey format during the 2013-2014 school year. Social cognitive variables were analyzed by grade and gender. Results indicated a statistically significant main effect for gender. Female students reported significantly higher scores for empathy, self-transcendence values and openness to change values, in comparison to male students. Male students had significantly higher moral disengagement than female students. Collective efficacy, moral disengagement, conservation, and self-enhancement, differed significantly among the sixth, seventh, and eighth grade students. A statistically significant difference was found for conservation values between sixth and seventh grade students, with seventh grade students having higher conservation values. Comparisons among the three grade levels for self-enhancement were statistically significant.

Gender differences were not found with respect to verbal bullying and defending, but there were significant grade differences. Sixth grade students had significantly higher scores for defending than either seventh or eighth graders. Moral disengagement was the only statistically significant predictor of verbal bullying; students with higher levels of moral disengagement were more likely to participate in verbal bullying. In predicting defending, three statistically significant predictor variables emerged: high defender self-efficacy, high empathy, and low moral disengagement. Implications for researchers, teachers, school administrators, mental health professionals and school policy makers. Additional research is needed to further the understanding of the influence of social cognitive variables on defending and bullying behavior.