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R P School Moral Climate: A New Method to Assess Socio-Cultural Perceptions and Its Relation to Bullying Anne Howard & Steven Landau Department of Psychology.

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Presentation on theme: "R P School Moral Climate: A New Method to Assess Socio-Cultural Perceptions and Its Relation to Bullying Anne Howard & Steven Landau Department of Psychology."— Presentation transcript:

1 r P School Moral Climate: A New Method to Assess Socio-Cultural Perceptions and Its Relation to Bullying Anne Howard & Steven Landau Department of Psychology Illinois State University Recent research (e.g., Gini, 2005) has shifted from a focus on the traditional dyadic perspective (i.e., a focus on the bully and victim) to a focus on bullying as a group process. There are numerous variables to consider when attempting to understand group processes involved with bullying. One important variable, school moral climate, has recently emerged as a strong predictor of school-based behavior problems. The intent of this investigation was to examine school moral climate in the context of bullying. School climate is a broad construct that generally refers to the physical conditions, interpersonal/social variables, and cultural norms of the school. A few notable studies have examined the relationship between school climate and a range of student academic, behavioral, and emotional outcomes. Brugman et al. (2003) investigated the contributions of moral atmosphere to several school-based transgressive behaviors, including bullying. Results indicated that a student’s decision to violate rules or help a fellow classmate was more likely determined by social norms than the child’s moral knowledge and social skills. However, these studies considered school moral climate as an individual difference, and this view may misrepresent its validity as a socio-cultural construct. The current study presents a new method of conceptualizing and deriving moral climate in schools. Specifically, school moral climate was conceptualized in the context of the child’s potential illusory bias. School climate scores were obtained by aggregating individual scores “cohort-wide” (i.e., clusters of three or four classrooms) and subtracting the average from each individual score, yielding a discrepancy score. Results are presented on the relation between cohort-wide perceptions of school moral climate, bullying rates, prosocial attributes, tolerance for aggression, and the how participants responded to a live bullying event. METHOD Participants Participants included th – 8 th grade students from two middle schools. Fifty-three percent were male (Mean age = 12.4). Although the focus of the study was on males, female participants were recruited to obtain a more complete understanding of cohort-wide school moral climate. Social climate data represented 17 cohorts, and each cohort was comprised of three or four classrooms within a grade. Procedure Each participant completed the 55-item School Moral Atmosphere Questionnaire (SMAQ; Høst et al., 1998) that is intended to measure students’ perception of school moral climate. This scale has demonstrated utility in predicting involvement with bullying and related behaviors (Brugman et al., 2003). The SMAQ is a multiple-choice instrument that captures students’ perceptions about several components of the school climate including: School Connectedness (e.g., “As a student you have a sort of contract with the school, so I think you shouldn’t skip school.”) School Pride (e.g., “I am proud of being a student at this school when a school team wins an important game.”) Relationships with Peers (e.g., “At this school you can trust other students.”) Shared Sense of Community (e.g., “Most students feel this school is a community, where students and teachers care about each other.”) Rules and Discipline (e.g., “You have to be careful what you do, otherwise the teachers are on your back.”) Relationships with Teachers (e.g., “Students trust their teachers.”) To identify students who held a positive or negative view about their school climate, a difference score was computed. That is, each male participant’s cohort (i.e., family of classes) average score was subtracted from his individual score. If the resulting score was zero, this represented consonance with the cohort. However, positive discrepancy scores represented an optimistic/positive illusory bias toward school climate, whereas negative scores revealed a pessimistic/negative perception of school climate relative to one’s cohort. Male participants also completed a survey on their personal experiences with bullying as well as several surveys measuring prosocial attributes (e.g., empathy, helping behavior) and tolerance for aggression (e.g., moral disengagement and normative beliefs about aggression). Finally, as part of a larger research study, boys viewed a computer-based “live” bullying episode that unfolded on the Internet. After witnessing this event, boys completed a survey designed to measure how they felt about the victim (i.e., social preference). RESULTS Boys whose school climate perceptions deviated from their classmates in a negative way (I.e., perceived their school to be less positive than their cohort average) reported significantly greater victimization than boys who reported a positive bias about their school climate, t(195) = 2.20, p <.05. Prosocial attributes including empathy, helping others, and coming to the aid of a victim of bullying were also examined as a function of school moral climate. Boys with a negative bias about their school climate self-reported significantly less prosocial attributes than boys who held a positively-biased view of the school’s moral climate, t(191) = -6.58, p <.01. CONCLUSIONS School climate seems to be viewed differently by children who have been victimized by bullies. It is alarming that students who experience bullying feel less connected to their school and adopt beliefs about the acceptability of aggressive retaliation. Students’ beliefs about the relative positive or negative nature of their school climate also seem to inform how these students feel about the likeability of real victims. A negative view of victims may contribute to subsequent victimization. Researchers and educators alike should be interested in demonstrating the benefits of a positive school climate and identifying the formula that successfully balances academic learning, social- emotional needs of children, and the social ecology of the school. This poster can be accessed under “Student Research” at: Similarly, boys whose school climate perceptions were discrepant from their classmates in a negative way endorsed greater tolerance for aggression compared to students who held positive biases about the school, t(168) = 3.86, p <.01. In other words, boys who described their schools in more unpleasant terms than peers also considered aggression a more acceptable solution for social problems. Finally, after viewing an apparent bullying episode on-line, likeability of the putative victim was determined by boys’ school climate discrepancy from their cohort. When asked a series of social preference questions (e.g., “How much do you like the victim?” “How popular do you think he is?”), results indicated that boys who hold a negative view of school climate relative to classmates considered the victim significantly less favorably than boys who held a positive view of their school, t(142) = -3.17, p <.01. ABSTRACT Purpose: Given widespread concern associated with school-based bullying, researchers are looking beyond the dyadic perspective (i.e., focusing on bullies and victims only) and are now considering a broader social ecology. School moral climate has emerged as an important factor in the occurrence of bullying and how bystanders perceive bullies and their victims. Method: The current study presents a new method for measuring school climate and examined the relationships between climate perceptions, affective and cognitive individual differences, and bullying outcomes. Results: Boys who hold school climate perceptions more negative than their classmates endorse less prosocial attributes, stronger attitudes about the acceptability of aggressive retaliation, and hold less favorable views of a victim of bullying. Conclusion: School climate may have implications for bullying and other student outcomes, and should be considered as a focus of prevention efforts. INTRODUCTION School-based bullying is a pervasive problem with severe and lasting consequences. A number of negative consequences accrue among the targets of bullying, including psychological distress, low self-esteem, increased social anxiety, poor peer relations, and increased psychopathology. Table 1: Descriptive statistics of boys’ school climate discrepancy views and individual differences psychosocial variables.


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