Sensation Seeking’s Differential Role in Face-to-Face and Cyberbullying: Taking Perceived Contextual Properties Into Account

Background

Several studies have demonstrated the link between sensation seeking and bullying. In contrast, few studies have investigated the associations between sensation seeking and offline- and cyberbullying simultaneously. Thus, contextual differences between offline and online environments were neglected. In addition, the few existing studies operationalized sensation seeking with items partly referring to antisocial behavior, which could have led to tautological findings. The aim of the present study was to overcome these limitations by operationalizing sensation seeking as a motivational disposition, rather than concrete (antisocial) behaviors, encompassing the dimensions ‘need for stimulation’ and ‘avoidance of rest’. Furthermore, we took student’s perceptions of selected contextual properties into account that might be relevant for the associations between both dimensions of sensation seeking and bullying in both contexts.

Method

A total of 523 students (37.4% girls; Mage = 17.83 years; SD = 2.13; age range 15–28 years) from 32 school classes answered online questionnaires on offline- and cyberbullying involvement, perceived contextual properties, and the two dimensions of sensation seeking during regular school hours.

Results

Structural Equation Modeling revealed differential relationships between the dimensions of sensation seeking and bullying in both contexts. Namely, need for stimulation was positively associated with offline- and with cyberbullying, whereas avoidance of rest was positively related to cyberbullying only. The differences in all regression slopes were statistically significant, indicating that the positive associations between both dimensions of sensation seeking were stronger for cyber- than for offline bullying. Dependent t-tests revealed differences in students’ perceptions of contextual properties between offline and online contexts. Nevertheless, no relationships between either dimension of sensation seeking and either form of bullying were moderated by any perceived contextual property.

Conclusion

Our study indicates that sensation seeking is a stronger risk factor for cyberbullying compared to offline-bullying. The unique relationship between avoidance of rest and cyberbullying could be explained by findings suggesting a relationship between boredom and aggressive behavior. Following the assumption that communication in cyberspace may take place in less stimulating environments compared to offline communication, future research should take the role of different boredom types into account to deepen the understanding of this differential association. Moreover, our findings provide empirical evidence for mostly theoretically assumed differences between offline and computer-mediated communication by examining student’s actual perceptions. The fact that no perceived contextual property moderated the investigated relationships suggests that future studies should take a more holistic approach. Overall, our study provides useful insights into the role of an intrapersonal risk factor for offline- and cyberbullying. By demonstrating differential relationships between the dimensions of sensation seeking and bullying in both contexts, this study adds to the current literature discussing similarities and differences between offline and cyberbullying.

Contact: daniel.graf@univie.ac.at

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