Who Bullies and When? Concurrent, Longitudinal, and Experimental Associations between Personality and Social Environments for Adolescent Bullying Perpetration
Increasing evidence suggests that bullying may be used by adolescents as a strategic, adaptive tool against weaker peers to obtain valued resources like social status and romantic partners. However, bullying perpetration may only be adaptive within particular environmental contexts that provide opportunities to obtain these resources at minimal costs. These environmental opportunities may be relevant for adolescents who possess particular personality traits and are motivated to exploit these contexts and power imbalances. Using an adaptive social ecological framework, the primary goal of my dissertation was to examine concurrent, longitudinal, and experimental associations between exploitative personality traits and broader social ecologies to facilitate adolescent bullying perpetration. In Study 1, I examined whether risky social environments filtered through antisocial personality traits to facilitate direct and indirect forms of bullying perpetration in a cross-sectional sample of 396 adolescents. In Study 2, I extended Study 1 by investigating the longitudinal associations among bullying, empathic and exploitative personality traits, and social environmental variables, in a sample of 560 adolescents across the first three years of high school. Given that Studies 1 and 2 were correlational, in Study 3, I explored whether bullying perpetration could be experimentally simulated in a laboratory setting through point allocations in the Dictator and Ultimatum economic games by manipulating power imbalances in a sample of 167 first-year undergraduate students. Results from all three studies largely supported the prediction that broader social ecologies filter through exploitative personality styles to associate with bullying perpetration. Exploitative adolescents are primarily likely to take advantage of particular contexts including power advantages, higher social status, and poorer school and neighborhood climates. The results of my dissertation demonstrate the complex reality of the social ecology of bullying, and the need for anti-bullying initiatives to target multiple contexts including individual differences.