Psi High Newsletter

October, 2010

Volume 35, No. 1


What can be done about cyber bullying?

 You Can Help Answer that Question

Cyber bullying is a phenomenon that has generated a lot of pain but not much research. At Shippensburg University a study is underway to examine bullying in cyberspace. The researchers are Kenneth France (Psychology Department), Azim Danesh (Business School), and Stephanie Jirard (Criminal Justice Department). Their hope is to better understand cyber bullying, what to do about it when it occurs, and how to prevent it. You and your students are invited to participate in the research by taking an anonymous online survey consisting of multiple-choice items. It can be accessed at the following URL.                                      

For those who wish, there is also the possibility of sharing an account of cyber bullying experiences. Here is such a story from one student.

It started during my junior year in high school. I got a text message saying, “We’re outside waiting for you. Don’t be scared. It will all be over soon.” Every day for the next four months I got between 10 and 50 text messages. They were vulgar and said I was ugly. They said I was being watched. They said, “Wouldn’t it be terrible if something happened to your pretty little car?” – identifying it by color and model. I didn’t want to go out of my house because I wondered who might see me and what text messages I might get. Eventually I just tried to be numb to the messages. I was tempted not to look at them at all, but I worried that there might be a particular threat to hurt me that I could take precautions against.

I did my best to put the messages out of my mind. When in school I could focus on academics and on my friends, but when I was at home it would all come back at me. I saved the harassing text messages and went to the police. The police officer didn’t really want to hear about it. He said, “We could pursue it, but it would be difficult.” I made a report anyway, and I’m glad that I did. I also got my phone number changed – twice – because somehow they found out my first new number. Since the second number change there has been no more harassment.

If I just knew who was doing it and that they weren’t going to do it again I could live so much more comfortably. Since I haven’t had any closure, I currently take antidepressants. I feel like my security has been taken away from me. I was beaten down so much that I still haven’t gotten over it.

My friends have been crucial to getting me through this. They have listened to me and they have believed me. After I went to the police and was basically told they weren’t going to pursue it, I was angry and disappointed. When I told my friends what happened at the police station, just having them listen helped me to feel so much better.

There have been times, because of the harassment, that I didn’t want to live anymore. But my friends have helped me to decide not to hurt myself. They want me to be alive and that makes a huge difference. It also helps that they tell me I am not ugly or any of those vulgar things I had been called.

Now, two years later, the episode still haunts me, and I think it will for a long time. Anonymous harassment is really low. Covering your identity, because you know that what you are doing is wrong, is a cowardly way to cope with whatever issues you have. If you have something to say, identify yourself and make your opinion known. If I could say anything to the people who have done this damage to me, I would say, “You are cowards.” I probably wouldn’t do anything else – even with as much anger and frustration as I’ve felt.

Friends were a key source of support for this student. Others may have had different experiences. Please consider taking the online survey and inviting your students to do the same. Participation can continue through the end of October, and the project has been approved by the Shippensburg University Committee on Research on Human Subjects. If you have any questions, comments, or stories you would like to share, you can contact the lead researcher, Dr. Kenneth France, at the following email address.   


Is it in the karate or the kid?

Student Experience Is Crucial

Previous research on martial arts training has demonstrated (1) that less experienced participants tend to be more aggressive than experienced participants and (2) that students in “modern” classes tend to be more aggressive than students in “traditional” classes. In order to investigate the influences of experience and class style on subconscious aggressiveness, Shippensburg University undergraduate Psychology major John Herigon collected data from students in a modern class (no uniforms, strikes to the head were encouraged) and from students in a traditional class (uniforms, strikes to the head were discouraged), with students in the modern class being older and having more experience than students in the traditional class. He presented his research (“Subconscious Perceptions of Sparing and Fighting in Traditional and Modern Martial Arts”) at Shippensburg University’s 2010 Student Research Conference.

Some of the martial arts students received a page with the word spar on it, some received a page with the word fight on it, and the remainder received a page with the word apple on it. They then wrote down a word that came to mind. After writing that word, they thought about the word they had just written and then wrote another word that came to mind. They repeated that task for two minutes. (It was hypothesized that the word lists would contain information on the participants’ subconscious levels of aggressiveness.)

The researcher then selected representative words from all of those written down, and had college students rate the aggressiveness of those words. For the word spar (a term that was more open to interpretation than either apple or fight), students with less experience had significantly higher aggressiveness ratings than experienced students. That finding was consistent with previous research. What would happen, though, when aggressiveness ratings for (mainly less experienced) students from a traditional class were compared to those for (mainly experienced) students from a modern class? In this case, level of experience was more important than style of class, since the students from the traditional class had significantly higher aggressiveness ratings than the students from the modern class.

The findings support the following conclusions: (1) despite martial arts instruction that espouses less aggressive conduct, a little knowledge can be dangerous; and (2) despite martial arts instruction that espouses more aggressive conduct, experience can be the best teacher.


How do we want to be remembered?

Researchers Study Final Messages

On September 11, 2001, as the twin towers of the World Trade Center entered their last minutes, many of the trapped victims left phone messages for those they were about to leave behind. The callers primarily focused on conveying love and other positive sentiments to the recipients. Were such expressions unique to that particular tragedy? Or is that what most of us would do if given the chance?

Prisoners who are about to be executed comprise one group of individuals who have an opportunity to communicate a final message. Between 1982 and 2009, the state of Texas executed 435 men (leading the nation in that category of punishment). Just prior to his death, the inmate was invited to make a last statement. Each man’s response to that invitation (along with other information about him) has been posted on the web by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. The data are available at the following URL.

The death row inmates had been found guilty of committing horrendous crimes. While recognizing there were probably innocent individuals among the 435 who were executed, it is still likely that most of those executed had, in fact, done something terrible. (It may have been their only such act; for 43% of the men, the crime for which they were executed was their first criminal conviction.)

Shippensburg University undergraduate Psychology majors Morgan Gerhart and Valerie Karslo used the website data to conduct a study entitled, “Categorization of Last Statements of Texas Inmates on Death Row,” which they presented at the 2010 convention of the Association for Psychological Science in Boston. The researchers developed a process for classifying the type of message being conveyed by the last statements. Based on the work of four undergraduate “judges,” two graduate student “auditors,” and their faculty advisor (Dr. Jim Griffith), eleven categories were created. Each of the messages was said to convey one or more of those categories. Here are the categories and the percentage of last statements in which they occurred: love, 48%; religiosity/prayer, 32%; wisdom/advice, 28%; gave thanks, 27%; apologized, 26%; said nothing, 22%; apathetic, 17%; asked for forgiveness, 15%; indicated innocence or blamed others, 12%; action request, 9%; said good-bye, 6%; indicated guilt 6%; gave forgiveness, 3%.

Even for a group in which being found guilty of terrible behavior was a common feature, most of the last statements conveyed appreciation for others and interest in their wellbeing. Both the “criminals” on death row and the “normal” workers in the doomed twin towers sent final messages in which love and caring were the dominant themes. Since most people apparently want to be remembered as being loving and caring, what is most likely to result in us being viewed that way? We can hope we will have an opportunity to convey such sentiments just before we die, or we can take action now.


Where can you read other newsletters?

You Can Access Other Issues on the Web.

Paper issues of the Psi High Newletter will no longer be published after 2010.

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Editor: Kenneth France, Ph.D.

The Psi High Newsletter
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high school psychology by  
Shippensburg University.

Contributions are encouraged 
and welcomed.
Please submit material to the editor.
Department of Psychology
Shippensburg University
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