The Social Cognitions of Victims of Bullying: A Systematic Review
Sanne Kellij and colleagues systematically reviewed 142 articles, examining evidence for three hypotheses on the relation between victimization and social information processing.
- Sanne Kellij, Gerine M. A. Lodder, Neeltje van den Bedem, Berna Güroğlu & René Veenstra
- 22 February 2022
- Read the paper on Springer: The Social Cognitions of Victims of Bullying: A Systematic Review
The nature of the relation between victimization of bullying and social information processing is unclear. The prevention hypothesis predicts that victims focus more on negative social cues to prevent further escalation. In contrast, the reaffiliation hypothesis predicts that victims focus more on positive social cues to restore the social situation. Alternatively, the desensitization hypothesis predicts that victims become increasingly insensitive to social cues because of a numbing effect.
This systematic review examines evidence for these three hypotheses on the relation between victimization and social information processing. The focus is on two phases of social information processing: encoding of social information (attending to and registration of social cues) and interpreting social information (making sense of multiple social cues simultaneously). These phases are important prerequisites for behavioral responses. The systematic search led to the inclusion of 142 articles, which were published between 1998 and 2021 and received quality assessment. The studies included on average about 1600 participants (range: 14–25,684), who were on average 11.4 years old (range: 4.1–17.0). The topics covered in the literature included attention to and accurate registration of social cues, peer perception, attribution of situations, empathy, and theory of mind.
The results were most often in line with the prevention hypothesis and suggested that victimization is related to a negative social-cognitive style, as shown by a more negative perception of peers in general and more negative situational attribution. Victimization seemed unrelated to abilities to empathize or understand others, which contradicted the desensitization hypothesis. However, desensitization may only occur after prolonged and persistent victimization, which to date has been sparsely studied. The reaffiliation hypothesis could not be thoroughly examined, because most studies did not include positive social cues. In bullying prevention, it is important to consider the negative social information processing style related to victimization, because this style may impede the development of positive social interactions.