Aggression has emerged as a social and public health issue that calls for advanced understanding, as well as the adoption of appropriate interventions. Its contemporary prominence has attracted an immense focus from social scientists and clinical experts. In explaining what aggression entails, the concerned groups have advanced diverse perspectives; on the one hand, theorists have always sought to explain why individuals express aggressive behavior as part of their core personality traits. On the other hand, biologists have been investigating possible neural basis of aggression, arguing that aggressive behavior is innate; whereas a majority of psychologists hold that aggression attitudes are a product of social and environmental interactions. Based on these diverse perspectives, an unprecedented debate, the nature versus nurture controversy, has emerged to explain the causes of aggression. Surprisingly, clear disagreements over the origin of aggression exist among psychologists. Some have upheld the tenets of psychodynamic approach to describe human aggressive behavior as an instinctive construct hence innate, whereas cognitive theorists hold that aggression is learnt. Despite the lack of consensus on the basis of human aggression, it is explicit that this behavior bears undesirable consequences. Of great concern is bullying, an aspect that has become a serious social problem among the global community, and which will be interrogated in depth in this discussion. According to Swearer, Wang, Berry and Myers (2014), bullying has emerged as a disastrous social relationship problem. In theory, bullying can be described as a form of aggression that is characterized by a systematic and repeated abuse of power (Ttofi, Farrington & Lösel, 2012). Over the past few decades, bullying has been blamed for an increase in suicidal cases and delinquency, especially among the youth (Carlyle & Steinman, 2007). In summary, this paper focuses on discussing the social psychological basis of bullying behavior in a manner that is consistent with the principles of aggression theories.
An informed discussion about the social psychological aspects of bullying can only be presented with a reflection on the negative consequences of bullying behavior. According to Poon (2016), bullying bears correlation with risk-taking behavior. It is worth noting that bullying and victimization have emerged as serious issues in the US education system. The raising cases of bullying in schools and colleges across the country reveal that the issue is approaching a catastrophic threshold. This explains the reason why the issue has attracted an immense attention from school administrators and other stakeholders including policy makers. However, some of its underlying forces that are responsible for the increase of this aggressive behavior have not yet been identified. Additionally, statistics associated with the extent of bullying exhibit some deficits. From a critical perspective, the prevalence of this behavior may be higher than it is reported in different reports. Only extreme cases of bullying are often reported with thousands of bullying cases remaining undocumented.
In this context, suicidal deaths, which have occurred over the past decade as consequences of bullying, show how this aggressive behavior is a serious social and public health problem. The earliest known case of suicidal bullying occurred in 1877 in which William Arthur Gibbs, a 12-year-old Sussex student, was bullied and beaten by his peers at Christ’s Hospital School. The incidence caused an immense outcry in the public, prompting the government to launch an official inquiry that revealed bullying as the cause of Gibbs’ death (Lionel, 2002). Since then, cases of bullying leading to death have been reported over the century until recently. One of the most alarming cases of bullying was the Jadin Bell’s suicide in 2013. Bell was a 15-year-old youth from Oregon who committed suicide by strangulation after being bullied at La Grande High School where he had enrolled as a sophomore student. It is believed that he became a victim of bullying due to his sexual orientation as a gay. In school, he experienced bullying in person, as well as cyberbullying; experiences that have depressive consequences leading to his decision to commit suicide. The death of Bell at the hospital’s emergency room after the termination of life support attracted widespread media coverage. It awakened the debate on gay bullying and its disastrous effects on youths (Associated Press, 2013).Recently, cases of bullying-related suicides have attracted an unprecedented media attention. Since 2010, numerous bullying-related suicides have occurred. One of the most shocking cases is that of Phoebe Prince, which occurred in 2010. Prince was a Massachusetts high school student who was aged 15 years. She is reported to have experienced both cyberbullying and school bullying; experiences that led to her suicide. Prince hanged herself after episodes of bullying just months after she had moved to South Hadley, Massachusetts from Ireland. As an international student, her classmates welcomed her with bullying, an incident that attracted international attention. The issue of school bullying was reported to have reached a catastrophic threshold. As a result, Massachusetts State responded by prosecuting the bullies who were charged with violation of civil rights (Eckholm & Zezima, 2010). In order to curb the social vice, the state established an anti-bullying task force, leading to the introduction of strict anti-bullying legislations (Bierman, 2010).
Elsewhere in Canada, suicides related to bullying have also been reported. An outstanding example is that of Amanda Todd, a 15-year-old high school girl, who hung herself due to cyberbullying and school bullying. Todd is reported to have experienced bullying at CABE Secondary school in Coquitlam, Canada. Investigations into her death prompted the Canadian legislature to increase support and funding for anti-bullying interventions. Additionally, there were proposals to criminalize cyberbullying as a way of curbing the aggressive behavior. These are just a few examples of bullying outcomes. The vice is widespread across the globe, cutting across ages, race, ethnicity, and social settings. Additionally, social change of the global population seems to be playing a key role in the increase of bullying behavior. This can be evidenced by increased incidences of bullying among the LGBT community. Waves of bullying of LGBT youths have been attracting media attention over the past decade. Consequently, this aspect seems to awaken sexism debate in the country.
Despite the diverse perspectives on the origin of aggression, bullying can be explained through a social psychological perspective. A cognitive approach acknowledges the role of environmental factors in shaping an individual’s behavior. This perspective has been supported by research evidence, which shows that aggressive behavior is a social psychological aspect as opposed to claims that construe it as an innate behavior. Some of these studies address aggression in general, whereas others are specific to bullying behavior as a distinct type of aggression.
In order to investigate the relationship between exposure to violence and the development of aggressive behavior, Huesmann et al. (2003) carried out a 15 years follow-up study. This study sought to investigate how exposure to violence in childhood may contribute to expression of aggressive behavior during adulthood. They examined the longitudinal correlation between TV-violence viewing at tender ages and aggression behavior in later stages of development. Therefore, this study comprised of a cohort group that was growing up over the study period of 15 years. Additionally, sample for this study comprised of both boys and girls, unlike previous studies that had demonstrated TV-violence viewing as an underlying cause of childhood aggression. According to the results of this study, it became apparent that exposure to media violence among children was correlated with aggressive behavior in young adulthood. In this case, both males and females showed significant correlations of these parameters. As such, findings of this study refuted suggestions by previous studies that showed significant correlations between exposure to media violence and aggression as a phenomenon that exists in boys only to be false. In this study, both interview data (N=329) and archival data (N=450) showed that exposure to media violence during childhood was correlated to the expression of aggressive behavior in young adults. This relationship was found to exist even in the absence of other social factors that are linked to aggressive behavior, including parenting, intellectual ability, and socioeconomic status. Therefore, this study can be considered as a landmark one in investigating the cause of aggression; demonstrating the relevance of social learning theory in explaining human aggressive behavior. In particular, observational learning explains why bullying occurs. From a critical perspective, therefore, there is the likelihood that exposure to violence plays a significant role in the development of aggressive behavior.
The study above appears to reflect validity in measuring study variables. First, it was a controlled cohort study that investigated the behavior of the group over 15 years. The cohort comprised of members of the same age group; thus, reflecting homogeneity in social parameters of the study population. One of the key strengths of this study was that it was longitudinal in nature. As such, it was possible to infer a temporal relationship between exposure to media violence and aggressive behavior. Additionally, the use of a longitudinal research design enabled researchers to determine causation. Overall, the strengths of this study serve as measures of validity. It is believed that only a longitudinal research design can answer questions of causation, appropriately. However, it is worth noting some limitations that were involved in this study. First, the study focused on media violence as the only form of violence. In reality, however, most media scenes involve a model figure whose actions and behavior exert significant behavioral influences on viewers, in this case, children. It did not investigate the situation under other common forms of violence, especially family violence, which affects a majority of children. Second, the study investigated the emergence of aggressive behavior in early adulthood after being exposed to violence between the ages of 6 to 10 years. In order to reflect how the construct influence social change, there should have been consistent follow-ups in all the subsequent stages of development, including adolescence and adulthood. Nevertheless, these limitations have been addressed by other studies, which have reported outcomes that support the findings of this study.
On the other hand, there are studies that have investigated the cause of bullying in particular and documented learning as the underlying drive. In a cross-sectional study that was carried out by Baldry (2003), bullying among young people was found to be influenced by exposure to violence. This study sought to investigate the correlation between bullying and exposure to domestic violence in typically developing individuals. The study comprised of 1,059 participants who were enrolled in Italian elementary and middle school. In the study approach, the investigator used a self-reporting questionnaire to obtain data on the relevant variables. According to the results of this study, more than half of the participants reported bullying or victimization within three months prior to the study. Boys were reported to be more involved in bullying than girls. It was also found out that interparental physical violence was directly correlated to bullying behavior. In particular, girls who were exposed to interparental violence were likely to bully others directly. Overall, exposure to interparental physical violence was found to increase the likelihood of bullying among the participants. Based on these findings, it was concluded that exposure to interparental violence was directly correlated with bullying in school. This correlation can be attributable to observational learning and imitation.
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- Patrick Kimuyu (Author), 2018, Principles of Aggression Theories and the Underlying Cause of Bullying Behavior, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/421307