Who is involved in cyberbullying? Latent class analysis of cyberbullying roles and their associations with aggression, self-esteem, and empathy


The present analyses empirically explored the roles in cyberbullying by using Latent Class Analysis. Potential predictors of class membership were also examined using multinomial logistic regression analysis. Participants were 849 German students (52.7% girls, 45.6% boys, Mage = 13.4 years, SDage = 1.1 years). Observed indicators of latent class measured own involvement in cyberbullying, reactions to cyberbullying of classmates, and behavioral willingness as assistant and as defender. Indicators for the post-hoc regression analyses were proactive aggression, reactive aggression, self-esteem, cognitive, and affective empathy. Control variables were age and gender. A model with five classes was chosen. The classes were labeled prosocial defenders, communicating outsiders, aggressive defenders, bully-victims, and assistants. The results of the post-hoc regression analyses showed that students in the classes especially differed regarding types of aggression and social competencies. Based on answer patterns, cyberbullying roles beyond the bullying-triad can be found. Remarkably, three of the classes are bystanders, i.e. they are not directly involved in cyberbullying. Two of these classes showed helping behavior and made up almost two thirds of the sample. Knowledge about cyberbullying roles and their predictors is important to inform the planning and development of interventions. The results further indicate that interventions should especially take into account antisocial and passive behavioral patterns in the context of cyberbullying.

Bibliographic citation

Schultze-Krumbholz, A., Hess, M., Pfetsch, J., & Scheithauer, H. (2018). Who is involved in cyberbullying? Latent class analysis of cyberbullying roles and their associations with aggression, self-esteem, and empathy. Cyberpsychology: Journal of Psychosocial Research on Cyberspace, 12(4), article 2. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.5817/CP2018-4-2


Cyberbullying; bystanders; cyberbullying roles; aggression; empathy

Full Text:



Show references Hide references

Anderson, C. A., & Bushman, B. J. (2002). Human aggression. Annual Review of Psychology, 53, 27-51. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev.psych.53.100901.135231

Ang, R. P., Huan, V. S., & Florell, D. (2014). Understanding the relationship between proactive and reactive aggression, and cyberbullying across United States and Singapore adolescent samples. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 29, 237-254. https://doi.org/10.1177/0886260513505149

Barlett, C., & Coyne, S. M. (2014). A meta-analysis of sex differences in cyber-bullying behavior: The moderating role of age. Aggressive Behavior, 40, 474-488. https://doi.org/10.1002/ab.21555

Barlińska, J., Szuster, A., & Winiewski, M. (2013). Cyberbullying among adolescent bystanders: Role of the communication medium, form of violence, and empathy. Journal of Community & Applied Social Psychology, 23, 37-51. https://doi.org/10.1002/casp.2137

Barlińska, J., Szuster, A., & Winiewski, M. (2015). The role of short- and long-term cognitive empathy activation in preventing cyberbystander reinforcing cyberbullying behavior. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 18, 241-244. https://doi.org/10.1089/cyber.2014.0412

Bastiaensens, S., Vandebosch, H., Poels, K., Van Cleemput, K., DeSmet, A., & De Bourdeaudhuij, I. (2014). Cyberbullying on social network sites. An experimental study into bystanders’ behavioural intentions to help the victim or reinforce the bully. Computers in Human Behavior, 31, 259-271. https://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2013.10.036

Batson, C. D. (2009). These things called empathy: Eight related but distinct phenomena. In J. Decety, & W. Ickes (Eds.), The social neuroscience of empathy (pp. 3-15). Cambridge, MA, US: MIT Press.

Campbell, M. A., Whiteford, C., Duncanson, K., Spears, B., Butler, D., & Slee, P. T. (2017). Cyberbullying bystanders: Gender, grade, and actions among primary and secondary school students in Australia. International Journal of Technoethics, 8(1), 44-55. https://doi.org/10.4018/IJT.2017010104

Collins, L. M. & Lanza, S. T. (2010). Latent class and latent transition analysis: With applications in the social, behavioral, and health sciences. New York, NY: John Wiley.

Cook, C. R., Williams, K. R., Guerra, N. G., Kim, T. E., & Sadek, S. (2010). Predictors of bullying and victimization in childhood and adolescence: A meta-analytic investigation. School Psychology Quarterly, 25, 65-83. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0020149

Craig, W. M., Pepler, D., & Atlas, R. (2000). Observations of bullying in the playground and in the classroom. School Psychology International, 21, 22-36. https://doi.org/10.1177/0143034300211002

Crick, N. R., & Dodge, K. A. (1996). Social information-processing mechanisms in reactive and proactive aggression. Child Development, 67, 993-1002. https://doi.org/10.2307/1131875

Davis, M. H. (1980). A multidimensional approach to individual differences in empathy. JSAS Catalog of Selected Documents in Psychology, 10, 85.

Davis, M. H. (1994). Empathy: A social psychological approach. Boulder, CO, US: Westview Press.

Del Rey, R., Casas, J. A., Ortega-Ruiz, R., Schultze-Krumbholz, A., Scheithauer, H., Smith, P., . . . Plichta, P. (2015). Structural validation and cross-cultural robustness of the European Cyberbullying Intervention Project Questionnaire. Computers in Human Behavior, 50, 141-147. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2015.03.065

Del Rey, R., Lazuras, L., Casas, J. A., Barkoukis, V., Ortega-Ruiz, R., & Tsorbatzoudis, H. (2016). Does empathy predict (cyber) bullying perpetration, and how do age, gender and nationality affect this relationship? Learning and Individual Differences, 45, 275-281. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.lindif.2015.11.021

DeSmet, A., Veldeman, C., Poels, K., Bastiaensens, S., Van Cleemput, K., Vandebosch, H., & De Bourdeaudhuij, I. (2014). Determinants of self-reported bystander behavior in cyberbullying incidents amongst adolescents. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 17, 207-215. https://doi.org/10.1089/cyber.2013.0027

DiFranzo, D., Taylor, S. H., Kazerooni, F., Wherry, O. D., & Bazarova, N. N. (2018). Upstanding by design: Bystander intervention in cyberbullying. In Proceedings of the 2018 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (paper 211). New York, NY: ACM.

Eisenberg, N., & Miller, P. A. (1987). The relation of empathy to prosocial and related behaviors. Psychological Bulletin, 101, 91-119. https://doi.org/10.1037/0033-2909.101.1.91

Erikson, E. H. (1968). Identity: youth and crisis. Oxford, England: Norton & Co.

Evans, C., & Smokowski, P. (2015). Prosocial bystander behavior in bullying dynamics: Assessing the impact of social capital. Journal of Youth & Adolescence, 44, 2289-2307. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10964-015-0338-5

Evers, K. E., Prochaska, J. O., Van Marter, D. F., Johnson, J. L., & Prochaska, J. M. (2007). Transtheoretical-based bullying prevention effectiveness trials in middle schools and high schools. Educational Research, 49, 397-414. https://doi.org/10.1080/00131880701717271

Fend, H., Helmke, A., & Richter, P. (1984). Inventar zu Selbstkonzept und Selbstvertrauen [Inventory for self-concept and self-confidence]. Konstanz: Universität Konstanz, Sozialwissenschaftliche Fakultät.

Gibbons, F. X., Gerrard, M., Blanton, H., & Russell, D. W. (1998). Reasoned action and social reaction: Willingness and intention as independent predictors of health risk. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 74, 1164-1180. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-3514.74.5.1164

Gini, G., Albiero, P., Benelli, B., & Altoè, G. (2007). Does empathy predict adolescents' bullying and defending behavior? Aggressive Behavior, 33, 467-476. https://doi.org/10.1002/ab.20204

Gollwitzer, M. (2007). Latent-Class-Analysis. In H. Moosbrugger & A. Kelava (Eds.), Testtheorie und Fragebogenkonstruktion [Test theory and questionnaire construction] (pp. 279-306). Heidelberg: Springer.

Gradinger, P., Strohmeier, D., & Spiel, C. (2009). Traditional bullying and cyberbullying: Identification of risk groups for adjustment problems. Zeitschrift für Psychologie, 217, 205-213. https://doi.org/10.1027/0044-3409.217.4.205

Guo, S. (2016). A meta-analysis of the predictors of cyberbullying perpetration and victimization. Psychology in the Schools, 53, 432-453. https://doi.org/10.1002/pits.21914

Hoffman, M. L. (2000). Empathy and moral development: Implications for caring and justice. New York, NY US: Cambridge University Press.

Hoijtink, H. (2001). Confirmatory Latent Class Analysis: Model selection using Bayes factors and (pseudo) likelihood ratio statistics. Multivariate Behavioral Research, 36, 563-588. https://doi.org/10.1207/S15327906MBR3604_04

Hollá, K., Fenyvesiová, L., & Hanuliaková, J. (2017). Measurement of Cyber-bullying severity. The New Educational Review, 47, 29-38.

Jenkins, L. N., & Nickerson, A. B. (2017). Bullying participant roles and gender as predictors of bystander intervention. Aggressive Behavior, 43, 281-290. https://doi.org/10.1002/ab.21688

Kabert, S. (2011). A mixed-methods analysis of the effect of self-esteem on bullying frequency, bullying behaviors, and motivations to bully in adolescence (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=psyh&AN=2011-99120-162&site=ehost-live

Kowalski, R. M., Guimetti, G. W., Schroeder, A. N., & Lattanner, M. R. (2014). Bullying in the digital age: A critical review and meta-analysis of cyberbullying research among youth. Psychological Bulletin, 140, 1073-1137. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0035618

Kowalski, R. M., & Limber, S. P. (2013). Psychological, physical, and academic correlates of cyberbullying and traditional bullying. Journal of Adolescent Health, 53, S13-S20. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jadohealth.2012.09.018

Lamsfuss, S. M., Silbereisen, R. K., & Boehnke, K. (1992). Empathie und Motive sozialen Handelns [Empathy and motives of social actions] (2nd ed.). Berlin: Arbeitsbereich Empirische Erziehungswissenschaft, Freie Universität Berlin.

Langos, C. (2012). Cyberbullying: The challenge to define. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 15, 285-289. https://doi.org/10.1089/cyber.2011.0588

Latané, B., & Darley, J. M. (1970). The unresponsive bystander: Why doesn’t he help? Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Leduc, K., Conway, L., Gomez-Garibello, C., & Talwar, V. (2018). The influence of participant role, gender, and age in elementary and high-school children's moral justifications of cyberbullying behaviors. Computers in Human Behavior, 83, 215-220. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2018.01.044

Lenhart, A., Madden, M., Smith, A., Purcell, K., Zickuhr, K., & Rainie, L. (2011). Teens, kindness and cruelty on social network sites: How American teens navigate the new world of "digital citizenship". Washington, DC, US: Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=eric&AN=ED537516&site=ehost-live

Little, T. D., Jones, S. M., Henrich, C. C., & Hawley, P. H. (2003). Disentangling the "whys" from the "whats" of aggressive behaviour. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 27, 122-133. https://doi.org/10.1080/01650250244000128

Macháčková, H., Dedkova, L., Sevcikova, A., & Cerna, A. (2013). Bystanders' support of cyberbullied schoolmates. Journal of Community & Applied Social Psychology, 23, 25-36. https://doi.org/10.1002/casp.2135

Macháčková, H., Dedkova, L., Sevcikova, A., & Cerna, A. (2018). Bystanders' supportive and passive responses to cyberaggression. Journal of School Violence, 17, 99-110. https://doi.org/10.1080/15388220.2016.1222499

Macháčková, H., & Pfetsch, J. (2016). Bystanders' responses to offline bullying and cyberbullying: The role of empathy and normative beliefs about aggression. Scandinavian Journal of Psychology, 57, 169-176. https://doi.org/10.1111/sjop.12277

Mitsopoulou, E., & Giovazolias, T. (2015). Personality traits, empathy and bullying behavior: A meta-analytic approach. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 21, 61-72. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.avb.2015.01.007

Muthén, L. K., & Muthén, B. O. (1998-2012). Mplus user's guide (7th ed.). Los Angeles, CA, USA: Muthén & Muthén.

Nickerson, A. B., Aloe, A. M., & Werth, J. M. (2015). The relation of empathy and defending in bullying: A meta-analytic investigation. School Psychology Review, 44, 372-390. https://doi.org/10.17105/spr-15-0035.1

Nickerson, A. B., Mele, D., & Princiotta, D. (2008). Attachment and empathy as predictors of roles as defenders or outsiders in bullying interactions. Journal of School Psychology, 46, 687-703. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jsp.2008.06.002

Norwood, F. B., & Lusk, J. L. (2011). Social desirability bias in real, hypothetical, and inferred valuation experiments. American Journal of Agricultural Economics, 93, 528-534. https://doi.org/10.1093/ajae/aaq142

Nylund, K. L., Asparouhov, T., & Muthén, B. O. (2007). Deciding on the number of classes in latent class analysis and growth mixture modeling: A Monte Carlo simulation study. Structural Equation Modeling: A Multidisciplinary Journal, 14, 535-569. https://doi.org/10.1080/10705510701575396

Nylund, K., Bellmore, A., Nishina, A., & Graham, S. (2007). Subtypes, severity, and structural stability of peer victimization: What does latent class analysis say? Child Development, 78, 1706-1722. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-8624.2007.01097.x

O'Moore, M., & Kirkham, C. (2001). Self-esteem and its relationship to bullying behaviour. Aggressive Behavior, 27, 269-283. https://doi.org/10.1002/ab.1010

Olenik-Shemesh, D., Heiman, T., & Eden, S. (2017). Bystanders’ behavior in cyberbullying episodes: Active and passive patterns in the context of personal–socio-emotional factors. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 32, 23-48. https://doi.org/10.1177/0886260515585531

Ortega, R., Elipe, P., Mora-Merchán, J. A., Calmaestra, J., & Vega, E. (2009). The emotional impact on victims of traditional bullying and cyberbullying: A study of Spanish adolescents. Zeitschrift für Psychologie, 217, 197-204. https://doi.org/10.1027/0044-3409.217.4.197

Pabian, S., Vandebosch, H., Poels, K., Van Cleemput, K., & Bastiaensens, S. (2016). Exposure to cyberbullying as a bystander: An investigation of desensitization effects among early adolescents. Computers in Human Behavior, 62, 480-487. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2016.04.022

Paciello, M. , Fida, R. , Tramontano, C. , Lupinetti, C. and Caprara, G. V. (2008). Stability and change of moral disengagement and its impact on aggression and violence in late adolescence. Child Development, 79, 1288-1309. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-8624.2008.01189.x

Palladino, B. E., Menesini, E., Nocentini, A., Luik, P., Naruskov, K., Ucanok, Z., . . . Scheithauer, H. (2017). Perceived severity of cyberbullying: Differences and similarities across four countries. Frontiers in Psychology, 8, article 1524. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2017.01524

Paluck, E. L., & Shepherd, H. (2012). The salience of social referents: A field experiment on collective norms and harassment behavior in a school social network. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 103, 899-915. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0030015

Patchin, J. W., & Hinduja, S. (2010). Cyberbullying and self-esteem. Journal of School Health, 80, 614-621. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1746-1561.2010.00548.x

Paulhus, D. L. (1984). Two-component models of socially desirable responding. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 46, 598-609. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-3514.46.3.598

Pfetsch, J. (2016). Who is who in cyberbullying? Conceptual and empirical perspectives on bystanders in cyberbullying. In M. F. Wright (Ed.), A social-ecological approach to cyberbullying (pp. 121-150). Hauppauge, NY: Nova Science Publishers.

Pfetsch, J., Müller, C. R., & Ittel, A. (2014). Cyberbullying und Empathie: Affektive, kognitive und medienbasierte Empathie im Kontext von Cyberbullying im Kindes- und Jugendalter [Cyberbullying and empathy: Affective, cognitive and media-based empathy in the context of cyberbullying in childhood and adolescence]. Diskurs Kindheits- und Jugendforschung, 9, 23-37. https://doi.org/10.3224/diskurs.v9i1.19081

Pfetsch, J., Müller, C. R., Walk, S., & Ittel, A. (2014). Bewältigung von Cyberviktimisierung im Jugendalter - Emotionale und verhaltensbezogene Reaktionen auf Cyberbullying [Coping with cybervictimization in adolescence – Emotional and behavioral reactions to cyberbullying]. Praxis der Kinderpsychologie und Kinderpsychiatrie, 63, 343-360. https://doi.org/10.13109/prkk.2014.63.5.343

Quirk, R., & Campbell, M. (2015). On standby? A comparison of online and offline witnesses to bullying and their bystander behaviour. Educational Psychology, 35, 430-448. https://doi.org/10.1080/01443410.2014.893556

Renati, R., Berrone, C., & Zanetti, M. A. (2012). Morally disengaged and unempathic: Do cyberbullies fit these definitions? An exploratory study. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 15, 391-398. https://doi.org/10.1089/cyber.2012.0046

Rigby, K., & Johnson, B. (2006). Expressed readiness of Australian schoolchildren to act as bystanders in support of children who are being bullied. Educational Psychology, 26, 425-440. https://doi.org/10.1080/01443410500342047

Rosenberg, M. (1965). Society and the adolescent self-image. Princeton, NJ: University Press.

Salmivalli, C., Kaukiainen, A., Kaistaniemi, L., & Lagerspetz, K. M. J. (1999). Self-evaluated self-esteem, peer-evaluated self-esteem, and defensive egotism as predictors of adolescents' participation in bullying situations. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 25, 1268-1278. https://doi.org/10.1177/0146167299258008

Salmivalli, C., Lagerspetz, K. M. J., Björkqvist, K., Österman, K., & Kaukiainen, A. (1996). Bullying as a group process: Participant roles and their relations to social status within the group. Aggressive Behavior, 22, 1-15. https://doi.org/10.1002/(SICI)1098-2337(1996)22:1<1::AID-AB1>3.0.CO;2-T

Schultze-Krumbholz, A., Göbel, K., Scheithauer, H., Brighi, A., Guarini, A., Tsorbatzoudis, H., . . . Smith, P. K. (2014). A comparison of classification approaches for cyberbullying and traditional bullying using data from six European countries. Journal of School Violence, 14, 47-65. https://doi.org/10.1080/15388220.2014.961067

Schultze-Krumbholz, A., Siebenbrock, A., Zagorscak, P., & Scheithauer, H. (2011). MEDIENHELDEN – Schülerfragebogen [MEDIA HEROES - Student questionnaire]. Unpublished questionnaire. Berlin: Freie Universität Berlin.

Schultze-Krumbholz, A., Zagorscak, P., Siebenbrock, A., & Scheithauer, H. (2012). Medienhelden - Unterrichtsmanual zur Förderung von Medienkompetenz und Prävention von Cybermobbing [Teaching manual for the promotion of media literacy and the prevention of cyberbullying]. München: Reinhardt Verlag.

Schultze-Krumbholz, A., Zagorscak, P., Wölfer, R., & Scheithauer, H. (2014). Prävention von Cybermobbing und Reduzierung aggressiven Verhaltens Jugendlicher durch das Programm Medienhelden: Ergebnisse einer Evaluationsstudie [Prevention of cyberbullying and reduction of adolescents‘ aggressive behavior using the ‘Medienhelden’ program: Results from an evaluation study]. Diskurs Kindheits- und Jugendforschung, 2014(1), 61-79. https://doi.org/10.3224/diskurs.v9i1.19083

Seals, D., & Young, J. (2003). Bullying and victimization: Prevalence and relationship to gender, grade level, ethnicity, self-esteem, and depression. Adolescence, 38, 735-747.

Steffgen, G., König, A., Pfetsch, J., & Melzer, A. (2011). Are cyberbullies less empathic? Adolescents’ cyberbullying behavior and empathic responsiveness. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 14, 643-648. https://doi.org/10.1089/cyber.2010.0445

Sun, S., Fan, X., & Du, J. (2016). Cyberbullying perpetration: A meta-analysis of gender differences. International Journal of Internet Science, 11, 61-81.

Sutton, J., Smith, P. K., & Swettenham, J. (1999). Social cognition and bullying: Social inadequacy or skilled manipulation? British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 17, 435-450. https://doi.org/10.1348/026151099165384

Tarrant, M., MacKenzie, L., & Hewitt, L. A. (2006). Friendship group identification, multidimensional self-concept, and experience of developmental tasks in adolescence. Journal of Adolescence, 29, 627-640. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.adolescence.2005.08.012

Tein, J., Coxe, S., & Cham, H. (2013). Statistical Power to Detect the Correct Number of Classes in Latent Profile Analysis. Structural Equation Modeling: A Multidisciplinary Journal, 20, 640-657. https://doi.org/10.1080/10705511.2013.824781

Tofighi, D., & Enders, C. K. (2007). Identifying the correct number of classes in a growth mixture model. In G. R. Hancock, & K. M. Samuelsen (Eds.), Advances in latent variable mixture models (pp. 317-341). Greenwich, CT: Information Age Publishing, Inc.

Tokunaga, R. S. (2010). Following you home from school: A critical review and synthesis of research on cyberbullying victimization. Computers in Human Behavior, 26, 277-287. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2009.11.014

Van Cleemput, K., Vandebosch, H., & Pabian, S. (2014). Personal characteristics and contextual factors that determine 'helping,' 'joining in,' and 'doing nothing' when witnessing cyberbullying. Aggressive Behavior, 40, 383-396. https://doi.org/10.1002/ab.21534

Van der Graaff, J., Branje, S., De Wied, M., Hawk, S., Van Lier, P., & Meeus, W. (2014). Perspective taking and empathic concern in adolescence: Gender differences in developmental changes. Developmental Psychology, 50, 881-888. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0034325

van Noorden, T. H. J., Haselager, G. J. T., Cillessen, A. H. N., & Bukowski, W. M. (2015). Empathy and involvement in bullying in children and adolescents: A systematic review. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 44, 637-657. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10964-014-0135-6

Volland, C., Ulich, D., Kienbaum, J., & Hölzle, E. (2008). Doing gender by doing emotion? Die geschlechtsspezifische Entwicklung der Mitgefühlsbereitschaft im Jugendalter [Doing gender by doing emotion? The gender-specific development of readiness for sympathy in adolescence]. Psychologie in Erziehung und Unterricht, 55, 27-38.

Werth, L. & Mayer, J. (2008). Sozialpsychologie [Social psychology]. Heidelberg: Springer.

Williams, K. R., & Guerra, N. G. (2007). Prevalence and predictors of internet bullying. Journal of Adolescent Health, 41, S14-S21. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jadohealth.2007.08.018

Zurek, P. P., & Scheithauer, H. (2017). Towards a more precise conceptualization of empathy: An integrative review of literature on definitions, associated functions, and developmental trajectories. International Journal of Developmental Science, 11, 57-68. https://doi.org/10.3233/DEV-16224