October 2017
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Findings Friday: gender doesn't predict online bullying among kids but cognitive empathy skills do


icon: "bluestocking (photo of a book lying open on a table with a bright window in the background, overlaid with a yellow fractal that looks like the sun shining through dust motes)"

Ang and Goh (2010) administered a survey to 396 children aged 12-18, measuring their affective and cognitive empathy levels as well as their self-reporting on what cyberbullying they had participated in and how frequently they had participated in such behavior, and breaking it down by assigned gender. (note: Affective empathy is emotional: the ability to feel what others feel. Cognitive empathy is mental: the ability to understand the emotions of others.)

They found that when children don't have much affective or cognitive empathy, they're more likely to bully (obviously) and that this is the same regardless of gender. High scores of affective empathy made girls less likely to cyberbully even if their cognitive scores were low, but this was not true for boys. This could be due in part to the fact that overall, girls scored higher on both forms of empathy, so maybe 'high' affective scores for boys were not high enough to prevent bullying: the 'high' affective empathy for boys was significantly lower than the 'high' affective empathy for girls. Or it could be partly due to the fact that girls are trained to make moral decisions based on emotion (avoidance of guilt), whereas boys are trained to make moral decisions based on thought (avoidance of judgement); thus, affective empathy has a stronger effect on girls than it does on boys, because it is actively brought in to the decision-making process.

Regardless, the fact that cognitive empathy is the only form of empathy to reliably prevent cyberbullying across gender means that cognitive empathy is important to teach to children, particularly in online environments.

[reference]Ang, R. P., and D. H. Goh. 2010. "< a href="http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs10578-010-0176-3" alt="http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs10578-010-0176-3">Cyberbullying Among Adolescents: The Role of Affective and Cognitive Empathy, and Gender</a>." Child Psychiatry & Human Development 41, no 4: 387–397. doi: 10.1007/s10578-010-0176-3


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Comments
soundofsunlight ══╣╠══
Teaching empathy is so important. I hope that research like this will lead to more of that.
belenen ══╣garrulous╠══
me too.
xxmadsenxx ══╣╠══

Interesting study, though not surprising.

belenen ══╣garrulous╠══
*nods* similar to my reaction.
ragnarok_08 ══╣SU ★ sleepwalker's dream╠══
That really is a fascinating study, and teaching empathy is just so important - here's hoping that more research of this arrives soon.
belenen ══╣analytical╠══
There is so much information available now -- time to implement!
jeune_fleur ══╣╠══
And here we are, teaching kids that history and maths are the only important things to learn at school *sigh*. I ALWAYS thought that kids never get taught the stuff that will be really useful in life later. I have no idea if I'm wrong, but knowing math or the history of my country never helped me fight back the people who bullied me or get through college when I was told I was a failure.

I'm not saying that teaching those things aren't important but... I think we should put more emphasis in empathy.
belenen ══╣artless╠══
*nods* I know what you mean! we really need to learn the ability to be good people. People act like that is automatic, but that would only happen if our world wasn't constantly breaking us down.
unbridledfervor ══╣anatomy: eye╠══
Can one really teach affective empathy? I'm genuinely curious what you think.


Emotional intelligence is so vital to every day interactions with people, but I'm not sure (I honestly don't know and I'd like to read research about this) if affective empathy can be taught.

I think it might have to do with hegemonic masculinity and how many boys and men are discouraged from childhood that showing emotion is a bad thing. Childhood years are important for development, both physically, cognitively, and emotionally and learning how to empathize with others starts from a young age. Perhaps more progressive parenting classes would help but that's so difficult to implement on a policy level.

I'll look up this article for more info but those are my first thoughts. Thanks for sharing!
belenen ══╣garrulous╠══
Yes, in the same way that boys are trained to be insensitive, girls are trained to be sensitive. Anything that can be trained in can be trained out.

Boys are trained to be insensitive to their own feelings as well as others. In order to access affective empathy, they have to re-train to be sensitive to their own feelings. This is difficult and painful, but completely possible as an adult. I've seen it happen automatically as people raised as male become more self-aware; they gain greater affective empathy as a side effect.
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Expect to find curse words, nudity, (occasionally explicit) talk of sex, and angry ranting, but NEVER slurs or sexually violent language. I use TW when I am aware of the need and on request.