Daily Archives: April 1, 2010

Cyberbullying– Is the Internet to blame?

After the highly publicized suicides of several US teens, a nation-wide discussion about the dangers of bullying has been sparked. In Massachusetts, 9 teens are facing charges for their bullying, which, prosecutors argue, led to the suicide of 15 year-old Phoebe Prince in January. As in the case of Phoebe Prince, modern bullying often takes place off school grounds in a form that past generations were more protected from. Nowadays, cyberbullying (bullying online or through cell phones) is becoming increasingly common.

An article in Psychology in the Schools outlines some of the elements differentiate cyberbullying from regular bullying. The author reviews past research on online behaviour among children, in an attempt to understand why young people are increasingly becoming involved in cyberbullying. According to the authors, there is much research suggesting that the anonymity of the Internet is fostering disinhibition and reducing concern for others. Psychologists and authors of the book “Mean Girls, Meaner Women” seem to support this; they argue that bullying is becoming increasingly common because young people aren’t being require to interact with each other face-to-face, and instead learn communication skills over the Internet. If this is the case, perhaps we should expect to see an increase in other examples of anti-social behaviour from teens who intensively communicate online.

However,  it also might be a bit unfair to place the blame entirely on the Internet, when other factors (e.g. parenting, education, etc.) probably still play a strong, if not stronger, role in developing children’s sense of right and wrong. Perhaps the Internet provides a new setting for bullies to harass victims, a place harder for victims to get away from. But maybe those kids would have been bullies even before the Internet and cell phones.

Read more: Cyberbullying: A preliminary assessment for school personel.

“Our love is dead, according to science!” What does science tell us about marriage?

Can science really predict divorce? Can science really tell you how to select the “right” partner? A recent post by Chris Matyszczyk brought a sarcastic and ironic view about the finding of a marriage study. Chris claimed, according to this study, the perfect wife is five years younger than her husband, is from the same cultural background, and is at least 27 percent smarter than her husband. 

Sounds ridiculous? Yes. If people try to over-generalize certain research findings to general population in any situation by ignoring its specific subjects and applicable context, or make prediction based on correlational studies, it’s possible that they will always obtain disappointing or ridiculous results.  Then, how should we think about the scientific findings on complicated human phenomena, such as marriage? What does science tell us about marriage? 

Gottman & Notarius (2002) reviewed the advances made in the 20th century in studying marriages. The first published research study on marriage dealt with one major research question, “What is fundamentally different about happily and unhappily married couples?”  Following that, with the development of more sophisticated measures and methods, some grim and interesting findings began emerging from research on marriage. For example, in the decades of the 1960s and 1970s, Burgess’ longitudinal study (Burgess & Wallin, 1953) found that, for most couples, marital satisfaction was high right after the wedding and then began a slow, steady, and nontrivial decline thereafter. Another example is Hicks and Platt’s (1970) decade-review article on marital happiness and stability which concluded that “perhaps the single most surprising finding to emerge from research is that children tend to detract from, rather than contribute to marital happiness”. Then, research in the decades of the 1980s and 1990s witnessed the realization of many secular changes in the American family, including the changing role of women, social science’s discovery of violence and incest in the family, and the beginning of the study of cultural variation in marriages et al.

In sum, marriage as an ultimate human condition has been intriguing to both scientists and common people for a long time. However, when we try to understand and interpret research findings on marriage, we need to be very careful about their applicable conditions and limitations. For example, as we know, psychological studies have relied on samples of convenience that have limited generalizability. Although based on the evidence we have so far, marital relations haven’t yet succumbed to delightfully efficient approaches, scientific findings keep shedding light on the mystery of human marriage.

Why your wife should be 27% smarter than you

John M. Gottman, Clifford I. Notarius. ( 2002), Marital Research in the 20th Century and a Research Agenda for the 21st Century. Family Process, 41, 159-197.