Date of Award

2006

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Science Honours

School

School of Psychology and Social Sciences

Faculty

Faculty of Computing, Health and Science

First Advisor

Dr Alison Garton

Abstract

Bullying and victimisation at school has been associated with increased reports of psychological and psychosomatic health issues. As such, schools have sought to implement programmes to reduce the prevalence of bullying. These programmes commonly include empathy-raising strategies which are expected to reduce the incidences of bullying. The present paper reviews the empathy and bullying literature, focussing on the suggested relationship between the two. The literature revealed that the concepts of empathy and bullying have undergone rapid development over recent years and as a result, there is much methodological variation between studies, culminating in inconsistent results. However, early research pertaining to the association between bullying and empathy has suggested that aggressive behaviour is associated with lower empathy levels, although this difference may be attributed to affective empathy (emotional arousal) whereas cognitive empathy-raising strategies are used in bullying intervention programmes. Overall, little research examined the influence of affective and cognitive empathy separately, and very few studies attempted to examine the bullying/empathy relationship. As such, future research to .examine the empathy/bullying relationship, including consideration of empathy types, bullying roles, and gender, would inform the development of effective bullying intervention programmes. Additionally, as there is much variation in research results for empathy and bullying, future research would benefit from adhering to suggested definitions, measures and methods to reduce methodological variation and gain data which are comparable across studies. Research examining the bullying/empathy relationship, and the separate components of empathy is limited. This research investigated relations between bullying, empathy and gender, and validity of the Feeling and Thinking (F&T) measure. The sample comprised 241 children (130 boys and 111 girls) in Grades 4 to 6 from 3 Perth schools. Self-report surveys, including questions from the Peer Relations Questionnaire to examine bullying and victimisation, and the F&T to examine empathy, were completed anonymously in class groups. Results indicated bully/victims had lower levels of empathy than victims and not involved students. This difference was apparent for affective but not cognitive empathy. Girls had higher levels of both cognitive and affective empathy than boys. Factor analysis did not support the two-factor solution of the F&T, but validity of the F&T as an overall measure of empathy was supported by results consistent with previous research. Despite limitations, results suggest that bullying interventions may benefit from including affective empathy-raising strategies. Overall, developing a measure to clearly distinguish between affective and cognitive empathy, and further research to clarify and expand on these findings is required.

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