My Topics

22 March 2021

Reduce Online Aggressive Behaviors Among Teens? Make Them Feel Accountable!

There is an urgent need to combat the increasing occurrence of cyber aggressive behaviors in teens’ messaging apps because these behaviors negatively affect teens’ well-being. Two studies published in Computers in Human Behavior examine the psychological processes that influence whether teens conform to cyber aggressive behaviors, such as forwarding private pictures of a peer in a WhatsApp group. Results suggest that increasing accountability is a viable strategy to reduce online aggressive behavior among teens.

Take aways

  • Teens are less likely to support cyber aggressive behaviors (forwarding private pictures of peers or sending nasty messages) when they believe that their opinions about the appropriateness of those behaviors are visible to others, as it makes them feel more accountable.
  • Interventions to reduce conformity to cyber aggression should focus on increasing accountability on WhatsApp.

Study information

  • Who?

    Study 1: 233 teenagers between 11 and 15 years old (mean age: 13.2 years old, 53.6% girls)

    Study 2: 296 teenagers between 10 and 16 years old (mean age: 12.7 years old, 52.4% girls)

  • Where?

    The Netherlands

  • How?

    Two studies were conducted that consisted of a scripted conversation (no real discussion) in an online environment that was visually similar to WhatsApp. Participants judged the appropriateness of several cyber aggressive behaviors after first viewing ostensible peers’ judgements, which were manipulated to be positive towards cyber aggression. Prior to being exposed to the scripted conversation, participants were led to believe that their group members were either strong ties (close friends) or weaker ties (other classmates or peers at a different school) and that their own judgments in the conversation would either remain private or would be made public, meaning that their judgements would be discussed in class.

Facts and findings

  • Most participants (98.7% in Study 1, 100% in Study 2) use WhatsApp.
  • Most participants (86.5% in Study 1, 83.1% in Study 2) indicate to use WhatsApp every day of the week.
  • Teens’ conformity behavior did not depend on the type of peer group (strong ties versus weak ties) they thought they had a conversation with.
  • When teens thought they had to discuss their judgements of the appropriateness of the cyber aggressive behaviors in class, they were less supportive of cyber aggressive behaviors than when they thought that their responses would remain private.