Category Archives: Social Media

Again: the bad effect of checking your phone in class

There has been quite some debate because of the French decision to ban mobile phones from schools from this school year on. While I’m also a bit critical – I think we should rather teach children how to deal with phones and focus – I do understand where this thinking stems from, from studies like this: the negative correlation between mobile phone use and grades.

From the press release:

Students perform less well in end-of-term exams if they are allowed access to an electronic device, such as a phone or tablet, for non-academic purposes in lectures, a new study in Educational Psychology finds.

Students who don’t use such devices themselves but attend lectures where their use is permitted also do worse, suggesting that phone/tablet use damages the group learning environment.

Researchers from Rutgers University in the US performed an in-class experiment to test whether dividing attention between electronic devices and the lecturer during the class affected students’ performance in within-lecture tests and an end-of-term exam.

118 cognitive psychology students at Rutgers University participated in the experiment during one term of their course. Laptops, phones and tablets were banned in half of the lectures and permitted in the other half. When devices were allowed, students were asked to record whether they had used them for non-academic purposes during the lecture.

The study found that having a device didn’t lower students’ scores in comprehension tests within lectures, but it did lower scores in the end-of-term exam by at least 5%, or half a grade. This finding shows for the first time that the main effect of divided attention in the classroom is on long-term retention, with fewer targets of a study task later remembered.

In addition, when the use of electronic devices was allowed in class, performance was also poorer for students who did not use devices as well as for those who did.

The study’s lead author, Professor Arnold Glass, added: “These findings should alert the many dedicated students and instructors that dividing attention is having an insidious effect that is impairing their exam performance and final grade.

“To help manage the use of devices in the classroom, teachers should explain to students the damaging effect of distractions on retention – not only for themselves, but for the whole class.”

Abstract of the study:

The intrusion of internet-enabled electronic devices (laptop, tablet, and cell phone) has transformed the modern college lecture into a divided attention task. This study measured the effect of using an electronic device for a non-academic purpose during class on subsequent exam performance. In a two-section college course, electronic devices were permitted in half the lectures, so the effect of the devices was assessed in a within-student, within-item counterbalanced experimental design. Dividing attention between an electronic device and the classroom lecture did not reduce comprehension of the lecture, as measured by within-class quiz questions. Instead, divided attention reduced long-term retention of the classroom lecture, which impaired subsequent unit exam and final exam performance. Students self-reported whether they had used an electronic device in each class. Exam performance was significantly worse than the no-device control condition both for students who did and did not use electronic devices during that class.

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This study made me wonder if I’m preaching to the choir or singing from the rooftops?

Sometimes a study makes you think. Not because it’s complex or because it’s wrong, but because… well it hits close to home. Isabelle Côté is an SFU professor of marine ecology and conservation and an active science communicator whose prime social media platform is Twitter just like me. Ok, I have a bit more followers than her but my subject is maybe a bit more broad than that from the author of this new study. She wanted to know if her followers are mainly scientists or non-scientists – in other words was she preaching to the choir or singing from the rooftops?

From the press release:

Côté and collaborator Emily Darling set out to find the answer by analyzing the active Twitter accounts of more than 100 ecology and evolutionary biology faculty members at 85 institutions across 11 countries.

Their methodology included categorizing followers as either “inreach” if they were academics, scientists and conservation agencies and donors; or “outreach” if they were science educators, journalists, the general public, politicians and government agencies.

Côté found that scientists with fewer than 1,000 followers primarily reach other scientists. However, scientists with more than 1,000 followers have more types of followers, including those in the “outreach” category.

Twitter and other forms of social media provide scientists with a potential way to share their research with the general public and, importantly, decision- and policy-makers. Côté says public pressure can be a pathway to drive change at a higher level. However, she notes that while social media is an asset, it is “not likely an effective replacement for the more direct science-to-policy outreach that many scientists are now engaging in, such as testifying in front of special governmental committees, directly contacting decision-makers, etc.”

Further, even with greater diversity and reach of followers, the authors concede there are still no guarantees that Twitter messages will be read or understood. Côté cites evidence that people selectively read what fits with their perception of the world, that changing followers’ minds about deeply held beliefs is challenging.

“While Twitter is emerging as a medium of choice for scientists, studies have shown that less than 40 per cent of academic scientists use the platform,” says Côté.

“There’s clearly a lot of room for scientists to build a social media presence and increase their scientific outreach. Our results provide scientists with clear evidence that social media can be used as a first step to disseminate scientific messages well beyond the ivory tower.”

I do agree with some of the conclusions, although I’ve experienced that it can differ from niche to niche. E.g. my wife is also a scientist who blogs with a lot colleagues on early education. For them to get real outreach, they don’t need to use twitter, but both Facebook and Pinterest are great drivers for their outreach-audience of practitioners. It’s just one example, but I do think that different audiences often use different social media platforms thus maybe making this study interesting to replicate in other fields of science. Oh, and the answer for myself? As I have a bit more than 1000 followers I’m pretty convinced I’m doing both.

Abstract of the study:

There have been strong calls for scientists to share their discoveries with society. Some scientists have heeded these calls through social media platforms such as Twitter. Here, we ask whether Twitter allows scientists to promote their findings primarily to other scientists (“inreach”), or whether it can help them reach broader, non-scientific audiences (“outreach”). We analyzed the Twitter followers of more than 100 faculty members in ecology and evolutionary biology and found that their followers are, on average, predominantly (∼55%) other scientists. However, beyond a threshold of ∼1000 followers, the range of follower types became more diverse and included research and educational organizations, media, members of the public with no stated association with science, and a small number of decision-makers. This varied audience was, in turn, followed by more people, resulting in an exponential increase in the social media reach of tweeting academic scientists. Tweeting, therefore, has the potential to disseminate scientific information widely after initial efforts to gain followers. These results should encourage scientists to invest in building a social media presence for scientific outreach.

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Surprising? Meta-analysis doesn’t find a correlation between social media use and school performance

Markus Appel, Ph.D. student Caroline Marker (JMU) and Timo Gnambs from the University of Bamberg have taken a closer look at how the social media use of adolescents correlates with their school grades. Do note correlates as this study didn’t look at causal effects. For the study the researchers identified 59 studies on the correlation between social media use and academic performance. In a next step they analyzed the results of these studies, which comprised almost 30,000 young people worldwide. And the results may surprise you as the researchers couldn’t find a clear correlation between social media use and school performance.

Well, it may surprise some people but actually it doesn’t surprise me that much as I have seen both studies that showed negative and positive effects of social media. It all depends – imho – on how, why and when social media is being used.

And this also what this study shows:

  1. Pupils who use social media intensively to communicate about school-related topics tend to have slightly better grades. The scientists had expected this.
  2. Pupils who use Instagram and the likes a lot while studying or doing their homework, tend to perform slightly worse than other students. This form of multi-tasking thus seems to be rather distracting.
  3. Students who log into social networking sites very frequently, regularly post messages and photos and spend a lot of time there have slightly lower grades. This negative effect is, however, very small.
  4. Pupils who are particularly active on social media do not spend less time studying. So there is no scientifically verified proof of social media stealing valuable time for schoolwork from pupils.

Abstract of the study:

The popularity of social networking sites (SNSs) among adolescents and young adults has raised concerns that the intensity of using these platforms might be associated with lower academic achievement. The empirical findings on this issue, however, are anything but conclusive. Therefore, we present four random-effects meta-analyses including 59 independent samples (total N = 29,337) on the association between patterns of SNS use and grades. The meta-analyses identified small negative effects of ρˆρ^ = − .07, 95% CI [− .12, − .02] for general SNS use and ρˆρ^ = − .10, 95% CI [− .16, − .05] for SNS use related to multitasking. General SNS use was unrelated to the time spent studying for school (ρˆρ^ = − .03, 95% CI [− 0.11, 0.06]) and no support for the time displacement hypothesis could be found in a meta-analytical mediation analysis. SNS use for academic purposes exhibited a small positive association, ρˆρ^ = .08, 95% CI [.02, .14]. Hypotheses with regard to cross-cultural differences were not supported.

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Meet the Geek, the Internet Celebrity, the Victim and the Lurker, aka teenagers online

I have seen already several of these categorizations of online persona of social media or technology users, but this one looks nice and recognizable. I haven’t read the book yet, as it is just released.

From the press release:

Academics have identified four distinct personas of social media user that teenagers describe as shaping how they behave on social media.

Young social media users are categorised as either acting like the Geek, the Internet Celebrity, the Victim or the Lurker depending on their levels of online activity and visibility, University of Sussex academics say.

The categorisations are based on interviews the researchers conducted with children aged between 10 and 15-years-old for a new book, Researching Everyday Childhoods, published by Bloomsbury and launched today [Monday January 29].

The interviews revealed many youngsters were increasingly savvy about maintaining their privacy online, often being motivated to protect themselves by unpleasant past personal experiences or negative incidents that affected classmates.

Dr Liam Berriman, lecturer in digital humanities at the University of Sussex, said: “Our research found that concerns about staying safe online created an atmosphere of intense anxiety for young people, even if they had not directly experienced any problems themselves. The young people we spoke to felt a great weight of responsibility for their safety online and were often motivated by the concern of being labelled a victim.”

“While there has been a lot of negative media coverage around teenagers’ interaction with social media, our findings are more hopeful that teenagers are responsible users of social media, are very conscious of the dangers and make considerable efforts to protect themselves against those risks.” Teenagers navigate between the desire to be praised and recognised online and anxieties over the risk of opening themselves up to criticism and trolling. Among the four personas is the Internet Celebrity who is able to best use the latest trends and increasingly values “visibility of the self” through Instagram, Snapchat, the selfie and YouTube vlogging.

But academics also identified how young people are experimenting with and enjoying invisibility online. They describe the Lurker as someone able to avoid peer dramas arising through platforms such as Facebook, whilst still engaging in fun peer activities such as stalking their favourite music bands online.

The Geek, meanwhile, uses invisibility to anonymously share and promote their amateur media creations online, such as music videos or fan fiction writing. The academics described how the Geeks’ long hours of labour on projects risked parental concern that their behaviour was obsessive or addictive.

Professor Rachel Thomson, professor of childhood and youth studies at the University of Sussex, said: “What is distinctive about these active social media users was the entrepreneurial character of their practice, with ‘play’ re-envisaged as a form of economically rewarding work. By gaining an audience, young people are aware that they could capture advertising and corporate sponsorship. The dream is to ‘go viral’, establishing a career as a cultural creator.”

The research also highlights the risks contained in a world dominated by personal visibility with the Victim left to suffer personal exposure and shame following the creation and display of intimate material such as sexting and the loss of control of this material.

The Victim’s high visibility is often out of their control with their presence and heightened without their consent as private material is extracted from them and exchanged under false premises.

This can vary from the frustration of being tagged in photographs and the creation of an unflattering digital footprint through the activities of others to the more invasive techniques of fraping, where a person’s online identity is hijacked without their permission, or sharing of intimate photographs.

Dr Berriman said: “These examples reveal the impossibility of non- participation in the world of social media. A teenager does not necessarily have to create an online persona, it is something that can be created by others.”

 

 

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Help me get this message to Mark Zuckerberg…

Dear Mark,

you wrote a new letter on your own network about philanthropy and you want technology to save American Education. First of all, great you want to help the world, but as an educational scientist you got me a bit worried.

I want to discuss this excerpt of your text:

To imagine what a future education system might look like, consider the research of Benjamin Bloom showing that if you take an average student and give them one-to-one tutoring, they will perform two standard deviations better than other students learning by conventional techniques. In other words, if a student is at the 50th percentile in their class and they receive effective one-on-one tutoring, they jump on average to the 98th percentile.

That suggests we need an education system where all students receive the equivalent of an expert one-on-one tutor. That is what we mean when we refer to “personalized learning”. Rather than having every student sit in a classroom and listen to a teacher explain the same material at the same pace in the same way regardless of a student’s strengths, learning style and interests, research shows students will perform better if they can learn at their own pace, based on their own interests, and in a style that fits them.
There are several things to say here. I could start talking about solutionism but I’m sure you know Morozov, I could tell you how this has failed in the past, but the most important thing is: you state that what you say is research based, mentioning someone who died in 1999 as if ed research hasn’t developed since.
Oh, and there is also this:

Benjamin Riley is very correct, dear Mark, and I would suggest to invite the man too. What you write, has been one of the most enduring myths in education. I don’t think you need the money, but if you want to earn 5000 dollars you could try this challenge to prove me and the scientific world incorrect. Until then, please don’t say it is backed by research. If you want to know more about myths about learning and education, I sure want to send you our book.

Have a great 2018,

Sincerely,

Pedro

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A new form of self-harm: cyberbullying yourself

I hadn’t heard this one before, according to this new paper a new form of self-harm in youth has emerged and is cause for concern. The behavior: ‘digital self-harm’ or ‘self-trolling,’ where adolescents post, send or share mean things about themselves anonymously online. The concern: it is happening at alarming rates and could be a cry for help. This new FAU study is the first to examine the extent of this behavior and is the most comprehensive investigation of this understudied problem and I was quite surprised to see that in a big sample 6% actually did this kind of self-harm.

From the press release:

Adolescents harming themselves with cuts, scratches or burns has gained a lot of attention over the years not just because of the physical damage and internal turmoil, but also because it has been linked to suicide. More recently, a new form of self-harm in youth has emerged and is cause for concern, warns a researcher and bullying expert from Florida Atlantic University.

The behavior: “digital self-harm,” “self-trolling,” or “self-cyberbullying,” where adolescents post, send or share mean things about themselves anonymously online. The concern: it is happening at alarming rates and could be a cry for help.

A new FAU study is the first to examine the extent of this behavior and is the most comprehensive investigation of this understudied problem.

“The idea that someone would cyberbully themselves first gained public attention with the tragic suicide of 14-year-old Hannah Smith in 2013 after she anonymously sent herself hurtful messages on a social media platform just weeks before she took her own life,” said Sameer Hinduja, Ph.D., study author, a professor in FAU’s School of Criminology and Criminal Justice in the College for Design and Social Inquiry, and co-director of the Cyberbullying Research Center. “We knew we had to study this empirically, and I was stunned to discover that about 1 in 20 middle- and high-school-age students have bullied themselves online. This finding was totally unexpected, even though I’ve been studying cyberbullying for almost 15 years.”

Hinduja and his collaborator from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, Justin W. Patchin, Ph.D., recently published results of their study in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

They used a nationally representative sample of 5,593 middle and high school students between the ages of 12 and 17 years old living in the United States to find out how many youth participated in digital self-harm, as well as their motivations for such behavior. They also examined if certain correlates of offline self-harm also applied to digital forms of self-harm.

Results of the study show that nearly 6 percent of the teens reported that they had anonymously posted something mean about themselves online. Among these, about half (51.3 percent) said they did it just once, about one-third (35.5 percent) said they did it a few times, while 13.2 percent said they had done it many times.

Boys were more likely to participate in this behavior (7 percent) compared to girls (5 percent). Their reasons, however, varied dramatically. Boys described their behavior as a joke or a way to get attention while girls said they did it because they were depressed or psychologically hurt. This finding is especially worrisome for the researchers as there may be more of a possibility that this behavior among girls leads to attempted or completed suicide.

To ascertain motivations behind the behavior, the researchers included an open-ended question asking respondents to tell them why they had engaged in digital self-harm. Most comments centered around certain themes: self-hate; attention seeking; depressive symptoms; feeling suicidal; to be funny; and to see if anyone would react. Qualitative data from the study showed that many who had participated in digital self-harm were looking for a response.

Age and race of the respondents did not differentiate participation in digital self-harm, but other factors did. Teens who identified as non-heterosexual were three times more likely to bully themselves online. In addition, victims of cyberbullying were nearly 12 times as likely to have cyberbullied themselves compared to those who were not victims. Those who reported using drugs or participating in deviance, had depressive symptoms, or had previously engaged in self-harm behaviors offline were all significantly more likely to have engaged in digital self-harm.

“Prior research has shown that self-harm and depression are linked to increased risk for suicide and so, like physical self-harm and depression, we need to closely look at the possibility that digital self-harm behaviors might precede suicide attempts,” said Hinduja. “We need to refrain from demonizing those who bully, and come to terms with the troubling fact that in certain cases the aggressor and target may be one and the same. What is more, their self-cyberbullying behavior may indicate a deep need for social and clinical support.”

Abstract of the study:

Purpose

Despite increased media and scholarly attention to digital forms of aggression directed toward adolescents by their peers (e.g., cyberbullying), very little research has explored digital aggression directed toward oneself. “Digital self-harm” is the anonymous online posting, sending, or otherwise sharing of hurtful content about oneself. The current study examined the extent of digital self-harm among adolescents.

Methods

Survey data were obtained in 2016 from a nationally representative sample of 5,593 American middle and high school students (12–17 years old). Logistic regression analysis was used to identify correlates of participation in digital self-harm. Qualitative responses were also reviewed to better understand motivations for digital self-harm.

Results

About 6% of students have anonymously posted something online about themselves that was mean. Males were significantly more likely to report participation (7.1% compared to 5.3%). Several statistically significant correlates of involvement in digital self-harm were identified, including sexual orientation, experience with school bullying and cyberbullying, drug use, participation in various forms of adolescent deviance, and depressive symptoms.

Conclusions

Digital self-harm is a new problem that demands additional scholarly attention. A deeper inquiry as to the motivations behind this behavior, and how it correlates to offline self-harm and suicidal ideation, can help direct mental health professionals toward informed prevention approaches.

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One for my students: phones keep you from concentrating during lectures

Yesterday I said to one of my students that it was pointless to sit in my class if you are so busy with your phone. He was so busy it even distracted me. I should have mentioned this new study – a combination of a meta-review and new data -, but I only read if afterwards. But let’s be honest: we’ve known this for quite a while.

The study in short:

 

  • Media use (MU) and academic performance (AP) studies omit subject area comparison.
  • Sample populations tend to be biased toward social science programs.•
  • Data show differences in the type and frequency of MU across subject areas.
  • Differences between MU and AP correlations were found for different subject areas.
  • MU is a stronger predictor of AP for students in the soft sciences.

 

From the press release (I skipped the digital native part for obvious reasons):

The researchers say it shouldn’t be surprising that university lecturers are encouraged to develop blended learning initiatives and bring tech — videos, podcasts, Facebook pages, etc. — into the classroom more and more to offer students the enhanced experiences enabled by digital media.

They warn, however, that an important effect of these initiatives has been to establish media use during university lectures as the norm.

“Studies by ourselves and researchers across the world show that students constantly use their phones when they are in class.

“But here’s the kicker: if you think they are following the lecture slides or engaging in debates about the topic you are mistaken. In fact, this is hardly ever the case. When students use their phones during lectures they do it to communicate with friends, engage in social networks, watch YouTube videos or just browse around the web to follow their interests.”

The researchers say there are two primary reasons why this form of behaviour is problematic from a cognitive control and learning perspective.

“The first is that when we engage in multitasking our performance on the primary task suffers. Making sense of lecture content is very difficult when you switch attention to your phone every five minutes. A strong body of evidence supports this, showing that media use during lectures is associated with lower academic performance.”

“The second reason is that it harms students’ ability to concentrate on any particular thing for an extended period of time. They become accustomed to switching to alternative streams of stimuli at increasingly short intervals. The moment the lecture fails to engage or becomes difficult to follow, the phones come out.”

The researchers say awareness of this trend has prompted some lecturers, even at leading tech-oriented universities like MIT in the United States, to declare their lectures device-free in an attempt to cultivate engagement, attentiveness and, ultimately, critical thinking skills among their students.

“No one can deny that mobile computing devices make our lives easier and more fun in a myriad of ways. But, in the face of all the connectedness and entertainment they offer, we should be mindful of the costs.”

The researchers encourage educational policy makers and lecturers, in particular, to consider the implications of their decisions with a much deeper awareness of the dynamics between technology use and the cognitive functions which enable us to learn.

Abstract of the paper:

The current generation of university students display an increasing propensity for media multitasking behaviour with digital devices such as laptops, tablets and smartphones. A growing body of empirical evidence has shown that this behaviour is associated with reduced academic performance. In this study it is proposed that the subject area within which an individual is situated may influence the relationship between media multitasking and academic performance. This proposition is evaluated, firstly, by means of a meta-review of prior studies in this area and, secondly, through a survey-based study of 1678 students at a large university in South Africa. Our findings suggest that little or no attention has been paid to variations between students from different subject areas in previous work and, based on our data, that subject area does influence the relationship between media use and academic performance. The study found that while a significant negative correlation exists between in-lecture media use and academic performance for students in the Arts and Social Sciences, the same pattern is not observable for students in the faculties of Engineering, Economic and Management Sciences, and Medical and Health Sciences.

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The meaning and qualities of friendship offline and online

The worst thing Marc Zuckerberg ever did is calling connections on Facebook ‘friends’, but still that doesn’t mean friendship doesn’t exist online or doesn’t mean a thing. Many parents worry about how much time teenagers spend texting, sharing selfies and engaging in other online activities with their friends. However, according to a recent research synthesis, many of these digital behaviors serve the same purpose and encompass the same core qualities as face-to-face relationships.

From the press release:

“Increased peer interaction in cyberspace has led to growing concern that today’s adolescent friendships are now less intimate and an inadequate substitute for those back in the day that took place in person,” said Stephanie Reich, UCI associate professor of education and co-author of the study. “Many contacts between adolescents are mediated through technology and can provide additional opportunities for friends to spend time together, share thoughts and display affection than in offline spaces alone.”

Reich, along with Ph.D. student and lead author Joanna Yau, identified six core characteristics of offline friendships — self-disclosure, validation, companionship, instrumental support, conflict and conflict resolution — and their digital parallels. For each quality, they noted ways in which online interfaces corresponded with or differed from in-person communication. The results are detailed in the May issue of Adolescent Research Review.

Reich and Yau found that digital exchanges offer more benefits in some areas and carry increased risks in others. On the plus side, online contact enhances companionship between friends via conversations that can continue throughout the day and night without disrupting others, and it also allows more time to control emotions and calm down before crafting and sending a response to something upsetting. Conversely, friendships can be damaged by gossip and rumors, which spread much faster and farther through cyberspace.

“Digital communication may increase the ramifications of conduct due to the permanence of information and the speed by which it travels, but at the core, friendships seem to have the same key characteristics,” Reich said. “The majority of adolescents interact electronically most often with individuals they consider friends offline. So rather than reducing intimacy in these relationships, technology-mediated communication may provide additional benefits to teens as connections occur both face-to-face and online.”

Abstract of the study:

Today’s youth often connect with friends online. Although decades of research have explored the core qualities of face-to-face friendships, less is known about how these qualities differ when friends interact via technology. Through a synthesis of research on friendship in digital spaces, we examine whether the core qualities of face-to-face friendships are evident in cyberspace. Six key components of friendships were identified from the large canon of research on friendships and studies that addressed these topics (i.e., self-disclosure, validation, companionship, instrumental support, conflict, and conflict resolution) were reviewed. The findings suggest that, while peer interactions in online spaces may be novel, the core qualities of friendships identified in research on offline spaces persist. Future research directions are identified.

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New study confirms: cyberbullying rarely occurs in isolation

It’s something I’ve known from other studies, but this new research from the University of Warwick, published in European Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, confirms it: cyberbullying is mostly an extension of playground bullying — and doesn’t create large numbers of new victims.

In short:

  • Cyberbullying doesn’t create large numbers of new victims
  • Most bullying is face-to-face – with cyberbullying used as a modern tool to supplement traditional forms
  • 29% of UK teenagers reported being bullied – only 1% were victims of cyberbullying alone
  • Bullying intervention strategies should focus on traditional bullying as well as cyberbullying

From the press release:

Professor Dieter Wolke in the Department of Psychology finds that although cyberbullying is prevalent and harmful, it is a modern tool used to harm victims already bullied by traditional, face-to-face means.

In a study of almost 3000 pupils aged 11-16 from UK secondary schools, twenty-nine percent reported being bullied, but one percent of adolescents were victims of cyberbullying alone.

During the survey, pupils completed the Bullying and Friendship Interview, which has been used in numerous studies to assess bullying and victimization.

They were asked about direct victimisation (e.g., “been hit/beaten up” or “called bad/nasty names”); relational victimization (e.g., “had nasty lies/rumours spread about you”); and cyber-victimization (e.g., “had rumours spread about you online”, “had embarrassing pictures posted online without permission”, or “got threatening or aggressive emails, instant messages, text messages or tweets”).

All the teenagers who reported being bullied in any form had lower self-esteem, and more behavioural difficulties than non-victims.

However, those who were bullied by multiple means – direct victimisation, relational victimisation and cyber-victimisation combined – demonstrated the lowest self-esteem and the most emotional and behavioural problems.

The study finds that cyberbullying is “another tool in the toolbox” for traditional bullying, but doesn’t create many unique online victims.

As a result, Professor Wolke argues that public health strategies to prevent bullying overall should still mainly focus on combatting traditional, face-to-face bullying – as that is the root cause of the vast majority of cyberbullying.

Professor Wolke comments:

“Bullying is a way to gain power and peer acceptance, being the ‘cool’ kid in class. Thus, cyber bullying is another tool that is directed towards peers that the bully knows, and bullies, at school.

“Any bullying prevention and intervention still needs to be primarily directed at combatting traditional bullying while considering cyberbullying as an extension that reaches victims outside the school gate and 24/7.”

Abstract of the study:

Cyberbullying has been portrayed as a rising ‘epidemic’ amongst children and adolescents. But does it create many new victims beyond those already bullied with traditional means (physical, relational)? Our aim was to determine whether cyberbullying creates uniquely new victims, and whether it has similar impact upon psychological and behavioral outcomes for adolescents, beyond those experienced by traditional victims. This study assessed 2745 pupils, aged 11–16, from UK secondary schools. Pupils completed an electronic survey that measured bullying involvement, self-esteem and behavioral problems. Twenty-nine percent reported being bullied but only 1% of adolescents were pure cyber-victims (i.e., not also bullied traditionally). Compared to direct or relational victims, cyber-victimization had similar negative effects on behavior (z = −0.41) and self-esteem (z = −0.22) compared to those not involved in bullying. However, those bullied by multiple means (poly-victims) had the most difficulties with behavior (z = −0.94) and lowest self-esteem (z = −0.78). Cyberbullying creates few new victims, but is mainly a new tool to harm victims already bullied by traditional means. Cyberbullying extends the reach of bullying beyond the school gate. Intervention strategies against cyberbullying may need to include approaches against traditional bullying and its root causes to be successful.

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Is how we use Facebook influenced by our genes?

It was Jan De Mol who sent me this study, but while the title of the press release suggests a big effect of genes on how we use sociale media, I for myself thought it would have been even bigger.

From the press release:

Access to and engagement with online media continues to grow at an unprecedented speed, and it plays an increasingly important role in the development and experience of people across all age groups. Nonetheless, people differ substantially in their use of online media and researchers are interested in finding out why people differ so much. For instance, do genetic differences between people affect their engagement with online media?

Published in PLOS ONE, the study looked at online media use in more than 8,500 16-year-old twins from the Twins Early Development Study (TEDS). By comparing identical twins (who share 100 per cent of their genes) and non-identical twins (who share 50 per cent of their genes), the researchers were able to estimate the relative contribution of genes and environment on individual differences in engagement with a range of online media, including games for entertainment and education, as well as time spent on chat rooms, instant messaging platforms and Facebook.

Heritability was substantial for time spent on all types of media including entertainment (37 per cent) and educational (34 per cent) media, online gaming (39 per cent) and social networking (24 per cent). Heritability describes the degree to which differences between children — in this case their use of online media — can be attributed to inherited genetic factors, rather than the effects of their environment.

In addition, unique environmental factors accounted for nearly two-thirds of the differences between people in online media use. Unique environmental factors could include varying access to media sources within a family, such as one sibling having a personal mobile phone and the other not, or parents monitoring use of social networks more heavily for one sibling compared to the other.

Together, these findings challenge the belief that people are passively exposed to media and instead support a view that people tailor their online media use based on their own unique genetic predispositions (a concept known as gene-environment correlation).

Ziada Ayorech, first author of the study from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN) at King’s College London, said: ‘Our findings contradict popular media effects theories, which typically view the media as an external entity that has some effect — either good or bad — on ‘helpless’ consumers. Finding that DNA differences substantially influence how individuals interact with the media puts the consumer in the driver’s seat, selecting and modifying their media exposure according to their needs.’

Professor Robert Plomin, senior author from the IoPPN at King’s College London, said: ‘The key component of this gene-environment correlation is choice, such that individuals are not simply passive recipients of their environment but instead actively select their experiences and these selections are correlated with their genetic propensities.’

These results raise questions about personalised media and the extent to which social media ‘filter bubbles’ only expose us to information that supports our own point of view, while sheltering us from conflicting arguments.

However, Professor Plomin points out that individual differences would still play an integral role here: ‘Where one person may seek online media that only supports their views, another may choose to also explore conflicting viewpoints.’

Abstract of the study:

Online media use has become an increasingly important behavioral domain over the past decade. However, studies into the etiology of individual differences in media use have focused primarily on pathological use. Here, for the first time, we test the genetic influences on online media use in a UK representative sample of 16 year old twins, who were assessed on time spent on educational (N = 2,585 twin pairs) and entertainment websites (N = 2,614 twin pairs), time spent gaming online (N = 2,635 twin pairs), and Facebook use (N = 4,333 twin pairs). Heritability was substantial for all forms of online media use, ranging from 34% for educational sites to 37% for entertainment sites and 39% for gaming. Furthermore, genetics accounted for 24% of the variance in Facebook use. Our results support an active model of the environment, where young people choose their online engagements in line with their genetic propensities.

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