How do teachers perceive and respond to cyberbullying in the school environment?

Our Peter Macaulay writes about his recent publication on cyberbullying, looking at teachers’ perceptions of its severity and publicity, and how these influence their intervention behaviour in the school environment.

Why is this important?

Bullying in the school environment is a challenge that teachers have been expected to address within their role. There are growing fears about the rise of cyberbullying and its impact on children. My article in The Conversation suggests that children need help dealing with it and teachers have a role in addressing the issue.

The aim of this study is to explore teachers’ perceptions towards cyberbullying, specifically addressing the roles of publicity and severity. This is the first known study to address teachers’ perceptions in this area.

What did our research involve?

We recruited teachers from 10 schools in England, across primary (5 focus groups, 31 teachers), secondary (2 focus groups, 11 teachers), and college (3 focus groups, 21 teachers) educational levels. A total of 63 teachers (10 males) participated across the 10 focus groups.

The focus groups explored teachers’ perceptions and responses towards cyberbullying, particularly around the roles of publicity and severity in cyberbullying. Prompt questions included: ‘Would you respond differently depending on how severe the cyberbullying act was, and why would you respond that way?’ and ‘What circumstances would you be more likely to intervene in an act of cyberbullying?’. 


What were our main findings?

Three themes were identified from the reflexive thematic analysis: (a) role of severity, (b) differential roles of publicity, and (c) bystander intentions.

Theme 1: Role of Severity

We found teachers perceived visual acts of cyberbullying as more severe, although the content of the act was more important in determining perceived severity.

“I think if it’s relentless as well. If it’s happened over and over again, then that would be treated more seriously than if somebody had said one comment, it’s still bad, but if its, more relentless then its more severe” (P7, focus group 4)

Differences in reported management strategies according to the type of cyberbullying was also suggested by primary school teachers.

“There’s a difference, text-messaging, in which we would meet and do a cyberbullying session and have a chat. But then that’s different to a photo being sent over which is sexually explicit and actually needs a criminal investigation as well” (P6, focus group 5)

3 people looking and smiling at content on a phone from pexels

Theme 2: Differential Roles of Publicity

We found that teachers tailored their response strategies across levels of publicity, using discussion-based solutions for private incidents compared to whole school strategies (e.g., assemblies) for cyberbullying incidents of wider publicity.

“[Public] has the potential to literally go viral and to go global, but a WhatsApp message between six friends, its semi-public. But, but more containable. Somebody would have to step outside of that and share it elsewhere, to become more public” (P5, focus group 2)

Although some primary teachers respond immediately to public acts of cyberbullying due to the wider audience and potential impact for the victim, other teachers suggested cyberbullying perpetrated privately is just as important to address.

“Yeah, I was just thinking like it might be a bit more, deep-seated if it’s just between the two people and you might need to unpick it a bit more than something as obvious as like a group and everybody’s just joined in, jumped on the bandwagon” (P2, focus group 4)

Theme 3: Bystander Intentions

We found that while most teachers recognised the propensity for negative or positive bystander intentions when victims are targeted in the public domain, primary teachers suggested the challenge to support victims targeted privately.

“Although, if its private it’s just between them, those two individuals, then nobody else knows about it. If its public, yes, you’ve got lots of negative from other people but there’s also the option to have support from other people as well. Whereas if it’s just you and them, nobody else might know about it, nobody’s there to help you” (P3, focus group 5)


What do the findings mean for implications?

  1. Our findings suggest those in the educational community responsible for addressing cyberbullying should take a more cautious approach when interpreting cyberbullying.
  2. They also suggest that schools need to ensure all teachers respond to cyberbullying immediately, through appropriate reporting mechanisms. Teachers should also review the contextual information when managing different types of cyberbullying behaviours.
  3. Our findings suggest a need for strategies to mobilise bystander support in the online environment.

The Department of Psychology at Staffordshire University offers a range of undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in Psychology at the University’s £30 million Science Centre in Stoke-on-Trent. The department is home to the Staffordshire Centre for Psychological Research, a large and active group of psychologists, PhD students and researchers conducting work into a variety of psychological disciplines and topic areas.

Theory of Mind experiments to do at home with your children

Last week Dr Sarah Rose, course leader for BSc Psychology and Child Development Award blogged about recreating some of the Piagetian Experiments with her children.

This week they have been having a go at some Theory of Mind tasks. These tasks are particularly suitable for children between the ages of about 3- and 7-years-old. We would love to hear how your children got on with these experiments, please tweet us @StaffsPsych or add your comments to this post!

Background

Psychologists are interested in how humans make sense of the world, this includes how they make sense of what others think. This ability to theorise and predict what someone else might be thinking develops with age and is called ‘Theory of Mind’.

This skill of predicting what another person may desire, believe, or feel usually develops between 3 and 7 years of age. The more psychologists have studied the development of theory of mind the more they have realised that it is not a single skill, instead it is a series of complex skills which develop over time.


False Belief Task 1: Sally and Ann

First we have had a go at recreating some of the classic Theory of Mind tasks testing ‘false beliefs’. These tasks require a child to understand that others may not have knowledge that they do, and which is correct. Therefore, they are called ‘false belief’ tasks as they require the child to recognise that someone else may have a ‘false belief’ about a situation.

One of the most famous of these false belief tasks is the story about two dolls, Sally and Anne:

Sally has a marble which she puts in a basket. She then goes on a walk. While she is on the walk Anne moves the marble to a box. Sally comes back from her walk and the child is asked where Sally will look for her marble.

To ‘pass’ this task the child needs to respond that Sally will look in the basket as she doesn’t know that the marble has been moved to the box.

Both my 4- and 6-year old seemed to enjoy this and found it relatively easy. If you would like to see the videos do have a look here. I used a paper prompt for the story about Sally and Anne, if you look on google you will find a few to choose from.


False Belief Task 2: Smarties Tube

Other versions of the false belief task have also been developed. Probably the most famous of these is the Smarties tube task. In this a child is shown a smarties tube (or some other familiar container, we used a pencil box).

The child is asked what they think is inside, as long as you have chosen something the child is familiar with, they should give you the expected answer, e.g. Smarties (or in my case pencils).

However, what the child doesn’t know is that prior to the experiment you have taken the expected contents out and replaced them with something unexpected! You then show the child the unexpected contents, this often gives them a good giggle. Then you close the container again and ask them what someone else, who hasn’t seen inside the container, would think was inside.

My 6-year old really enjoyed this task as he found it very funny. My 4-year old was a little more confused by it though (video can be found here). She thought that Nana would think there were sweeties in the pencil box! I did wonder if this might reflected the box that I had chosen as maybe she thought Nana would not be familiar with the box and therefore that it contained pencils Alternatively, maybe there is something about this task that she just found more difficult than the task about Sally and Anne?


Diverse Desire Task

Since the development of the false belief tasks it has become recognised that these tasks test just one aspect of Theory of Mind. If we are interested in children’s understanding of the minds of others, then we need more tasks as people’s minds are very complex. We need tasks that test children’s understanding of different types of thoughts, not just someone’s knowledge and beliefs.

One of these more recent tasks has been designed to test children’s understanding that the likes and desires of others may differ to their own. To test this, you will need a picture of two possible snacks (we used pictures of a cookie and a carrot) and a soft toy who can be the character in the story.
Now you are ready to engage in the following conversation with your child.

  • Here are two different snacks, a carrot, and a cookie (show them the pictures). Which would you like best?
  • Here is Farmer Tom (the name of the toy we used), and it is his snack time!
  • Farmer Tom really likes (opposite to what child said). He does not like (what the child says), he likes (opposite to what the child said).
  • So now it is snack time, Farmer Tom can choose what he would like to eat. Which snack will they choose, a cookie or a carrot?

To ‘pass’ this task the child needs to choose the snack for the toy character that the character likes – rather than the one that they would choose. Both of my children found this quite easy, you can see them having a go here. I was not surprised by this as understanding of diverse desires has been found to be one of the first Theory of Mind skills to develop, usually before the understanding of false belief


Real – Apparent Emotion Task

As well has having beliefs and desires we have emotions too. Some more recent Theory of Mind tasks, such as this story about Sam have aimed to investigate children’s understanding of the emotions that another person might feel and show – and that these may not always be the same as people can try and hide their emotions.

To test this understanding of emotion you will need a couple of paper props: a silhouette, or outline of a boy, and three face emojis (happy, neutral and sad). Make sure that your child is confident about the feelings that each of three faces represent and introduce the silhouette of the boy explaining that it is ‘Sam’ the boy in the story that you are about to read.

Now you are ready to read the story:

This story is about Sam. I am going to ask you some questions about how Sam is feeling, how he is really feeling on the inside, and how he looks on his face. He might feel one way inside but look a different way on his face. I want you to tell me how he really feels inside AND then how he looks on his face, okay?

  • Sam’s friends were playing together and telling jokes.
  • One of the older children, Rosie, told a mean, unkind joke about Sam and everyone laughed.
  • Everyone thought it was very funny but Sam didn’t.
  • But he didn’t want the other children to see how he felt about the joke, so Sam tried to hide how he felt.
  • So, how do you think Sam felt on the inside when everyone else laughed at the joke?
  • AND how did Sam try to look on his face?

To pass this test children need to recognise that although Sam felt sad inside, he tried to disguise his feelings by looking neutral or happy. I was surprised at how easy both of my children found this task as understanding of emotion has generally been found to be one of the later Theory of Mind skills to develop. This led me to wonder whether maybe taking the ‘test’ in a familiar environment with a familiar adult who they are used to listening to made it easier for them to pass the test?


Finally, some reflections on these tests…

Although the theory of mind tasks are tests of social cognition they also require good language skills as children really have to listen and understand what you are saying otherwise they would be likely to give the wrong answers. I think, like the Piagetian tasks I wrote about last week, that when we are able to present these tasks in a child friendly way that makes sense to the child we may find that some abilities develop slightly sooner than the theorist originally thought. These reminds us how important the environment and context is for children, if they feel comfortable and relaxed they may be better able to show us their true cognitive abilities.

Let us know what you think!


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Positive Parenting in a Pandemic: 6 tips

I am Dr. Sarah Rose, Senior Lecturer in Psychology and Child Development, and Course Leader for our BSc Undergraduate course in Psychology and Child Development. Also, I am mum to a 4- and 6-year-old, who knows that parenting is hard. Especially, in the time of a pandemic when usual routines and support networks are suddenly taken away.

Although this has been going on for several weeks now and it looks like restrictions are beginning to relax, possibly even with some children going back to school next month, this is not necessarily making the strain on families any easier.

So, I am going to give you six tips based on psychology evidence and theory.

They won’t necessarily make parenting any easier, but I hope they may give you something useful to think about – and maybe make you feel a little more confident about some of the decisions that you make as a parent.


Tip 1: Show connection

A large body of evidence suggests that feeling “securely attached”, connected and loved is important for children’s development and wellbeing.

For young children, physical touch is very important and can reduce stress. Furthermore, there is no evidence that being more affectionate with your children will make them clingy, in fact to the contrary it will help them feel safe and build their emotional resilience.

Older children may not want you to show them physical affection, but it is important to still find time to connect with them. Maybe making some time to exercise together, or sitting down to watch a film as family, may provide an opportunity for this.

Tip 2: Be a balanced parent

While it is important that we listen to and respond to our children’s needs it is also important that we place reasonable, age appropriate demands on them. Psychology evidence suggests that we should aim to be an “authoritative” parent who sets the boundaries and has clear expectations of our children while also being supportive and responsive to our children.


Tip 3: Manage anger (own, child and between children!)

It is completely normal for both us and our children to feel angry sometimes, especially during the stress of a pandemic. Remember that anger is often a symptom of stress and the demands of the environment we find ourselves in.

This means that you should not feel cross with yourself, or your child for showing signs of anger. Instead see it as a symptom, a sign that you, or your child, need to try and take some time to calm down and reduce your stress levels. Maybe now would be a good time to go outside and run around the garden (whatever your age) or lock yourself in the toilet (maybe just for adults this one!).


Tip 4: Develop routine

This pandemic is affecting everybody, but it is affecting people in different ways.

  • You might be at home trying to work or worrying about whether you will have a job to go back to after furlough while also feeling pressured to entertain your children and support their learning.
  • Or you might be a key worker, working extra hours, feeling stressed about the risks to yourself and your family as you drop your child off at school or nursery.

Whatever your circumstances, all our experiences, both as parents and as children, are likely to be very different to what they were. This can be very unsettling for everyone. However, routines can help to give us a sense of control and a sense of predictability within our lives. So, try and develop a routine that works for your family.

There may have to be adjustments and flexibility but knowing that there are certain times during the day when parents will focus on work, children will focus on school work, entertain themselves or everyone will focus on having fun, or maybe exercising together, can be very reassuring for everyone. This can also help with those feelings of parent guilt as you try and meet the demands of working and meeting your children’s needs.


Tip 5: Manage screen time

Something that you may be worrying about is the amount of time that your child is spending in front of a screen, especially as more and more providers are making educational resources available online for free.
Evidence suggests that screen time can be part of a balanced childhood, and indeed it may be very useful to make it part of your daily routine.

I have heard some lovely stories of extended family and friends interacting with children over screens, for example helping out with some schoolwork or reading a story, and evidence suggest that connecting with others in this way is very positive for children.

Furthermore, evidence suggests that although children learn best through interacting with others screen content can support their development. So do not feel guilty about using screen time within your daily routine. With children and young people spending more time online, many parents may be worried about their online safety. Through talking to your child, voicing your concerns and regularly checking in with them when they are online you can support them through promoting dialogue about online safety and what they should do if they feel unsure or threatened.


Tip 6: Build “emotional resilience

It is a fact of life that things are not always easy, we want to try and develop our children so that they have the inner strength to cope with this, I think my dad would have called this having a thick skin!

The suggestions that I have given already will help your child to develop this emotional resilience, or thick skin. Other things that are important are talking to your child, try and let them know what to expect:

  • Talk about times of change that they have experienced – explain that this will be a time of change.
  • Provide clear answers to questions, that are as truthful and as age appropriate as possible.
  • It is okay to tell them that you are worried too, or that you do not know when the virus will end or when they will be able to see Nana and Grandad again.
  • But also reassure them that you will look after them and help them feel safe and help them to keep perspective, for example by shifting beyond the current situation to a time when families will be able to be together again.

Of course, talking may not be easy, but try and open conversations and look for opportunities when your child may feel under less pressure, for example maybe while you are watching TV, taking some exercise together or engaging in a craft activity. Ask them their opinion about what is happening and listen to their answer.


Finally…

Parenting is hard and I certainly make lots of mistakes. But do not be hard on yourself, try and praise yourself and your children when things are going well. Notice and remember the good times as evidence suggests that praise and positive memories are much better for promoting good behaviour than punishment.

Here are some resources that you might find useful:


The Department of Psychology at Staffordshire University offers a range of undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in Psychology at the University’s £30 million Science Centre in Stoke-on-Trent. The department is home to the Staffordshire Centre for Psychological Research, a large and active group of psychologists, PhD students and researchers conducting work into a variety of psychological disciplines and topic areas.

Interested in a Psychology degree? Come to an Open Day – for further details and to book your place at an open day please click here.

The impact that lockdown might be having on body image

Dr Alison Owen appeared on BBC Radio Ulster on May 1st 2020 on the Evening Extra show with Devon Harvey and Julie McCullough to discuss the impact that lockdown may be having on people’s body image.

Dr Alison Owen

The discussion was based around the way that people are feeling about themselves during lockdown. For example, in terms of people not being able to get their hair cut or dyed or maintain their usual beauty regime.

Dr Owen talked about the fact that although many people are in lockdown at the moment, they are finding that they do still feel a lot of pressure on their appearance.

She discussed the impact that video calling may have on people’s body image. Many people are taking part in video calling, using applications such as Zoom and FaceTime, both for work and for keeping in touch with friends and family. This means that people are looking at their faces on a screen much more often than they usually would. This can really add to the pressure of maintaining a more polished appearance, so things like making sure that their hair looks presentable, or maybe feeling like they should apply makeup.

Another factor that was discussed during the programme was that video calling can bring attention to appearance-based flaws that people wouldn’t normally be focussing on. So, for example, wrinkles or imperfections that they can see whilst watching themselves on the screen.

Additionally, Dr Owen discussed how people may be spending more time on social media during lockdown, because they aren’t able to get out and see friends and family in person it’s a good way of feeling connected to them. However, this can also lead to pressures in terms of looking at more heavily filtered images of their friends and family as opposed to seeing them in person where they may not look so polished!

You can catch up on the radio interview, which is available up to June 1st. Dr Owen’s discussions are from around 55 minutes in.


The Science Centre

The Department of Psychology at Staffordshire University offers a range of undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in Psychology at the University’s £30 million Science Centre in Stoke-on-Trent. The department is home to the Staffordshire Centre for Psychological Research, a large and active group of psychologists, PhD students and researchers conducting work into a variety of psychological disciplines and topic areas.

Dr Daniel Jolley featured on BBC Radio Stoke discussing what makes a conspiracy theory…

Dr Daniel Jolley (Senior Lecturer in Social Psychology & member of the Staffordshire Centre for Psychological Research) was featured on BBC Radio Stoke’s Lucas Yeomans Evening show discussing the psychology of conspiracy theories and how he got into researching why people believe in conspiracies.

You can listen to Dr Jolley’s interview via the below link:

BBC Sounds: BBC Radio Stoke Lucas Yeomans Evening Show (29/7/2019) [from 17 mins 3 seconds in]


Exterior Science Centre

The Department of Psychology at Staffordshire University offers a range of undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in Psychology at the University’s £30 million Science Centre in Stoke-on-Trent. The department is home to the Staffordshire Centre for Psychological Research, a large and active group of psychologists, PhD students and researchers conducting work into a variety of psychological disciplines and topic areas.

Interested in a Psychology degree? Come to an Open Day – for further details and to book your place at an open day please click here.

“Conspiracy theories: Are they damaging democracy?” Dr Daniel Jolley featured on TRT World’s Roundtable

Dr Daniel Jolley (Senior Lecturer in Social Psychology & member of the Staffordshire Centre for Psychological Research) was featured on TRT World’s Roundtable television programme discussing the psychology and consequences of beliefs in conspiracy theories as part of a discussion panel. Dr Jolley discussed some of his recent research into the potential negative effects of believing in conspiracy theories with other leading experts researching why individuals believe in conspiracies.

You can view the Roundtable programme featuring Dr Jolley via the below Youtube video:


Exterior Science Centre

The Department of Psychology at Staffordshire University offers a range of undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in Psychology at the University’s £30 million Science Centre in Stoke-on-Trent. The department is home to the Staffordshire Centre for Psychological Research, a large and active group of psychologists, PhD students and researchers conducting work into a variety of psychological disciplines and topic areas.

Interested in a Psychology degree? Come to an Open Day – for further details and to book your place at an open day please click here.

Dr Daniel Jolley featured on BBC Radio 5 Live discussing why people believe in conspiracy theories

Dr Daniel Jolley (Senior Lecturer in Social Psychology & member of the Staffordshire Centre for Psychological Research) was featured on BBC Radio 5 Live’s Sarah Brett show discussing the reasons why people believe in conspiracy theories, whether more conspiracy theories are being believed today compared to the past, and whether conspiracy theory beliefs are resistant to change.

You can listen to Dr Jolley’s interview via the below link:

BBC Sounds: BBC Radio 5 Live Sarah Brett show – 9/7/2019 (from 36:20)


The Department of Psychology at Staffordshire University offers a range of undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in Psychology at the University’s £30 million Science Centre in Stoke-on-Trent. The department is home to the Staffordshire Centre for Psychological Research, a large and active group of psychologists, PhD students and researchers conducting work into a variety of psychological disciplines and topic areas.

Interested in a Psychology degree? Come to an Open Day – for further details and to book your place at an open day please click here.

Screen time and effects on children’s wellbeing: Dr Sarah Rose discusses on BBC Radio 5 Live

Dr Sarah Rose (Senior Lecturer in Psychology & Child Development, Award Leader – BSc (Hons) Psychology & Child Development) was featured on BBC Radio 5 Live’s Stephen Nolan show discussing recent research suggesting that screen time may not be as harmful for children’s health and wellbeing as commonly assumed. Dr Rose was featured discussing these findings and recommendations for screen time use for children.

You can listen to Dr Rose’s contributions to the debate via the BBC Sounds website and app:

BBC Sounds – BBC Radio 5 Live: Steven Nolan show with Adrian Goldberg (from 1 hour, 7 mins)


The Department of Psychology at Staffordshire University offers a range of undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in Psychology at the University’s £30 million Science Centre in Stoke-on-Trent. The department is home to the Staffordshire Centre for Psychological Research, a large and active group of psychologists, PhD students and researchers conducting work into a variety of psychological disciplines and topic areas.

Interested in a Psychology degree? Come to an Open Day – for further details and to book your place at an open day please click here.

Dr Rob Dempsey wins ‘I’m a Scientist… Get Me Out of Here!’ Mental Health Zone (June 2019)

Dr Rob Dempsey (Senior Lecturer in Psychology & Mental Health, Course Leader – MSc Foundations of Clinical Psychology) took part in June 2019’s ‘I’m a Scientist, Get Me Out of Here!’ public engagement event for schools and colleges. ‘I’m a Scientist’ is a two-week long online event where scientists working in a variety of fields answer a variety of questions posed to them by students in primary and secondary school through to 6th form. Students and scientists discuss topics in a series of online chats, with students also able to post questions online for scientists to answer.

Dr Dempsey took part in the British Psychological Society sponsored Mental Health Zone in June 2019 and was one of six psychologists working in mental health-related fields who took part in a number of live online chats over a two week period. The second week of the contest takes the form of an X-Factor style knock-out competition, where the scientist with the fewest number of student votes is eliminated each day with the victor announced at the end of the week. In a close contest, Dr Dempsey received the highest number of nominations and was crowned winner of the Mental Health Zone:

I was delighted to win I’m a Scientist’s Mental Health Zone, especially as this is based on nominations from students we chatted to over a two week period. The event is a great way for students of various ages to interact with scientists working in various fields and have their questions answered about our research and work in Mental Health. I hope that we managed to inspire some of the students to pursue careers working in Mental Health, and personally I hope that some will consider studying Psychology at A-Level and Degree level and pursuing careers in Psychology and Mental Health

Dr Rob Dempsey, Senior Lecturer in Psychology & Mental Health

Dr Dempsey wins a prize of £500 to spend on public engagement activities and is planning on producing a free video resource with supporting materials for use by high school and college teachers – the aim being to highlight why psychological approaches to understanding mental health-related issues are needed and how students can pursue careers in this area. Dr Dempsey conducts research focusing on understanding the psychological pathways implicated in the experience of common mental health-related complaints, and is hoping that this resource will help others to pursue similar careers in this area.


The Department of Psychology at Staffordshire University offers a range of undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in Psychology at the University’s £30 million Science Centre in Stoke-on-Trent. The department is home to the Staffordshire Centre for Psychological Research, a large and active group of psychologists, PhD students and researchers conducting work into a variety of psychological disciplines and topic areas.

Interested in a Psychology degree? Come to an Open Day – for further details and to book your place at an open day please click here.

Body Image & Love Island: Dr Alison Owen discusses on BBC Radio Stoke

Dr Alison Owen

Dr Alison Owen (Lecturer in Health Psychology; Staffordshire Centre for Psychological Research) was featured on BBC Radio Stoke’s Lucas Yeoman’s evening show discussing her body image research ahead of the new series of Love Island.

Love Island, a reality TV series, has attracted controversy over its suggested negative effects on body image amongst men and women, as well as media reports of poor mental health and deaths by suicide amongst former contestants.

Dr Owen discussed what body image is, how it may be influenced by social media and representations of body shapes presented on popular media, and discussed some of her ongoing studies researching the effects of positive and negative body image ideals on a variety of health-related behaviours.

You can listen to Dr Owen’s interview via the BBC Sounds website and app – a link to the programme can be found below:

BBC Sounds: Lucas Yeomans – BBC Radio Stoke (3.6.2019)


The Department of Psychology at Staffordshire University offers a range of undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in Psychology at the University’s £30 million Science Centre in Stoke-on-Trent. The department is home to the Staffordshire Centre for Psychological Research, a large and active group of psychologists, PhD students and researchers conducting work into a variety of psychological disciplines and topic areas.

Interested in a Psychology degree? Come to an Open Day – for further details and to book your place at an open day please click here.