Open Access Dissertation
Date of Award
Stephen B. Hillman
The purpose of this study was to assess the moderating influence empathy has on the associations between adolescent bullying behavior and moral disengagement after controlling for social desirability (e.g., response bias). 676 students in 7th and 8th grade from a suburban middle school in Southeast Michigan participated in this study in the fall of 2012.
Results showed male respondents were more likely than female respondents to (a) report engaging in all forms of traditional bullying behavior overall, including physical, verbal, and social bullying and (b) report higher rates of physical victimization and moral disengagement. Female respondents were more likely to (a) report social victimization than male respondents and (b) report higher rates of empathic responses. Eighth graders were more likely than 7th graders to (a) report engaging in all forms of traditional bullying behavior overall, including physical, verbal, and social bullying and (b) reported higher rates of moral disengagement; while 7th graders reported higher levels of social desirability than 8th graders. A main effect for ethnicity was established in reports of physical and cyber bullying, along with reports of empathy; however, ethnicity decreased in significance for both forms of bullying once they were added to the regression model, thereby no longer contributing to the model to a significant degree. Participants who responded in a socially desirable manner were significantly less likely to (a) report engaging in all forms of bullying and victimization and (b) report moral disengagement beliefs, in comparison to those reporting less socially desirable responses. Those who responded as high in moral disengagement were more likely to report participating in all forms of bullying, including verbal, social, physical and cyber bullying compared to those who scored lower on moral disengagement. Adolescents classified as both traditional and cyber bullies reported the highest levels of moral disengagement and those who reported participating in neither form of bullying had the lowest levels of moral disengagement.
The effects of social desirability on moral disengagement and all methods of bullying behavior depend on the empathy group (low, medium, high) of participants. While the main effect of empathy was statistically significant regarding overall bullying, the moderating effect that it had on moral disengagement was even stronger; therefore, the relationship between empathy and moral disengagement is further moderated by social desirability. Aside from verbal bullying, empathy does have a contrasting influence on the direction of the relationships between moral disengagement and the remaining bullying variables (physical, social, and cyber). This means, as empathy increases, moral disengagement and involvement in bullying behavior decreases, and as empathy decreases, moral disengagement and involvement in bullying behavior increases. The potential roles these variables play in present and future cognitive and behavioral research is substantial.
Zelidman, Amy, "Empathy As A Moderator Of Adolescent Bullying Behavior And Moral Disengagement After Controlling For Social Desirability" (2014). Wayne State University Dissertations. 944.