Criminal Behaviour and Mental Health

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Bullying and alexithymia: Are there differences between traditional, cyber, combined bullies, and nonbullies in reading their own emotions?

Abstract

Background

Few studies have examined alexithymia, the inability to identify or describe one's emotions, as a possible correlate of bullying.

Aims

To investigate whether there are differences among 12–18 year‐olds in capacity for identifying and/or describing own emotions between traditional bullies, cyber bullies, combined bullies, and nonbullies.

Methods

Data from self‐report questionnaires completed by 897 female and 652 male 12–18 year‐olds (mean 14.5 years, standard deviation 1.68) from Germany and Thailand were analysed using analysis of covariance.

Results

Young people who reported never having bullied others scored lower on the alexithymia scale than traditional, cyber, or combined bullies. There were no differences between traditional and cyber bullies on this measure, but those who operated in both ways had significantly higher alexithymia scores compared with those who bullied in just one modality.

Conclusion

Alexithymia is thus likely to be an important factor to consider in prevention and treatment of bullying. We recommend that prevention programmes include elements to help identify and describe one's own emotions, providing additional support, and “training” if alexithymia is identified. When young people use cyber techniques and traditional bullying methods, it seems likely that they will have greatest need in this respect.

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