Psychoanalysis Of “Mean Girls”

Psychoanalysis Of “Mean Girls”

Psychoanalysis Of “Mean Girls”

1) Describe the psychological principle(s) illustrated in the film using the reading and PowerPoint.  Be sure to include citations for the definitions of the concepts (even if taken from the PowerPoint).  If the concept is a psychological disorder, be sure to include the symptoms. 10pts


2) Describe the relevant scenes which illustrate the psychological principle(s).  If this is a psychological disorder, this should be an illustration of the symptoms.  10pts

3) Analyze your concept using the assigned article.  You should include information from the article (with citations) which relate to your concept.  Describe the relevant movie scenes from the perspective of the article  10 pts.

4)  Critically analyze the accuracies and in accuracies of the movie’s portrayal based on the readings/PowerPoint 7pts

5) In-text citations and a reference page 3 pts

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    Social Psychology

    Mean Girls


    The Nature and Origins of Stereotyping


    Negative attitudes (affective) toward the members of a specific social group


    Beliefs (cognitive) about social groups in terms of the traits or characteristics that they are believed to share


    Negative behaviors (behavioral) directed toward members of different social groups









    Social identity theory

    A theory concerned with the consequences of perceiving the self as a member of a social group and identifying with it

    People easily divide the social world into us (the in-group) versus them (the out-group)

    People considered part of the ‘us’ category are thought of more favorably than those in the ‘them’ category



















    Thinking about the self: Personal versus Social Identity

    Social identity theory- addresses how we respond when our group identity is salient


    Personal-versus-social identity continuum- signifies the two distinct ways that we can categorize ourselves



    Other people are not easy to figure out.

    Why are they the way they are?

    Why do they do what they do?

    We all have a fundamental fascination with explaining other people’s behavior, but all we have to go on is observable behavior:

    What people do

    What they say

    We can’t know, truly and completely, who they are and what they mean to us.

    Instead, we rely on our impressions and personal theories, putting them together as well as we can, hoping they will lead to reasonably accurate and useful conclusions.





    Attribution: Some Basic Sources of Error

    Fundamental attribution error

    Tendency to explain others’ actions as stemming from dispositions even in the presence of clear situational causes


    We tend to think of others in terms of global traits and tend to discount external causes of behavior







    Actor-Observer Effect: “You Fell; I Was Pushed”

    Tendency to attribute:

    own behavior mainly to situational causes

    behavior of others mainly to dispositional causes


















    Self-Serving Attributions

    Self-Serving Attributions

    Explanations for one’s successes that credit internal, dispositional factors and explanations for one’s failures that blame external, situational factors.

    Defensive Attributions

    Explanations for behavior that avoid feelings of vulnerability and mortality.



    Self-Serving Attributions

    Why do we make self-serving attributions?

    Most people try to maintain their self-esteem whenever possible, even if that means distorting reality by changing a thought or belief.


    We want people to think well of us and to admire us. Telling others that our poor performance was due to some external cause puts a “good face” on failure; many people call this strategy “making excuses.”



    Self-Serving Attributions

    One form of defensive attribution is to believe that bad things happen only to bad people or at least, only to people who make stupid mistakes or poor choices.

    Therefore, bad things won’t happen to us because we won’t be that stupid or careless.

    Melvin Lerner called this the belief in a just world—the assumption that people get what they deserve and deserve what they get. Psychoanalysis Of “Mean Girls”








    The Potential Benefits of Contact


    Contact hypothesis- Increased contact can decrease prejudice by increasing familiarity and reducing anxiety

    Can recognize similarities between groups

    Cross-group friendships can reduce anxiety associated with interacting with the out group.





















    Self-Esteem: Attitudes toward Ourselves

    One’s overall attitude toward the self

    The degree to which the self is perceived positively or negatively; stable or unstable; Does it vary across contexts



    Implicit Self-Esteem

    Implicit Association Test:

    Classification task

    measures strength of automatic associations between target and attribute categories


    Automatic attitude activation

    attitudes are activated automatically on encounter with attitude-objects


    Self-Esteem IAT (Greenwald & Farnham, 2000)

    target = me vs. not me

    attribute = positive vs. negative




    Sequence of Steps for Self-Esteem IAT

    Steps Left Key Right Key
    1 positive negative
    2 me them
    3 positive or me practice negative or them practice
    4 Positive or me critical Negative and them critical
    5 them me
    6 Positive and them practice Negative or me practice
    7 Positive and them critical Negative or me critical



    Normative Social Influence

    Given this fundamental human need for social companionship, it is not surprising that we often conform in order to be accepted by others. Psychoanalysis Of “Mean Girls”

    The influence of other people that leads us to conform in order to be liked and accepted by them.

    This type of conformity results in public compliance with the group’s beliefs and behaviors but not necessarily private acceptance of those beliefs and behaviors.







    Informational Social Influence

    Social influence based on the desire to be correct

    Especially strong source of conformity when the task is important, and difficulty and uncertainty are high

    When someone is uncertain with respect to how to act or you are not sure of the answer to a question, you look around for information in your environment.















    Grade School

    The general school atmosphere creates an environment of exclusion, mockery and taunting, making life extremely difficult for a sizable number of students.

    Most high schools are cliquish places where students are shunned if they are “wrong”-wrong side of the tracks, wearing the wrong clothes, too short, too fat, too tall or too thin. Psychoanalysis Of “Mean Girls”



    Cady Heron is a sweet girl who has just started public high school for the first time since moving from South Africa

    She has no notions of how people behave or ought to behave in cliques and groups.

    Unable to make sense of what is going on around her, Cady has to learn about the politics of the high school 2:33



    Popular kids are generally “alpha males” and “queen bees” -may be more athletic, talkative, attractive or simply controlling than other members of a group. Psychoanalysis Of “Mean Girls”

    These kids generally have social skills that draw others to them and are considered leaders of a group

    Bi strategic controllers


    9:00 1:10

    Where you sit in the cafeteria is crucial

    The plastics invite Cady to sit with them-why?


    By Tim Urban

    The mammoth’s hurricane of fear of social disapproval plays a factor in most parts of most people’s lives.

    It’s what makes you feel weird about going to a restaurant or a movie alone;

    It’s what makes parents care a little too much about where their child goes to college;

    It’s what makes you pass up a career you’d love in favor of a more lucrative career you’re lukewarm about;

    it’s what makes you get married before you’re ready to a person you’re not in love with.

    (Tim Urban)


    Sometimes, a mammoth’s focus isn’t on wider society as much as it’s on winning the approval of a “Social Master” in your life.

    A “Social Master” is a person or group of people whose opinion matters so much to you that they’re essentially running your life.

    A “Social Master” is often a parent, or maybe your significant other, or sometimes an alpha member of your group of friends.

    (Tim Urban)



    Attractive, intelligent, socially adept which gives her the power to control others.

    She understands what makes others tick: bi-strategic controller

    She deliberately plays people against each other, manipulating them and their insecurities

    Makes her own rules

    26:30 1:20

    Can Regina have any real friends?


    Can Regina be defeated?


    20:40 Burn book 0:30

    Anthropologists believe that throughout human history, gossip has been a way for us to bond with others—and sometimes a tool to isolate those who aren’t supporting the group.

    The darkest side of gossip emerges when it becomes the weapon—whether deployed by equal rivals fighting for a position, or by a senior executive protecting her territory.

    Drexler (2014)

    Gretchen and Karen

    Are they mean?

    Do they possess the social acumen that Regina and Cady have?

    Janis and Damian

    Lovable loser/straight shooter

    Underestimates Cady’s social acumen –but knows she is a threat to the plastics and uses that for her own purpose

    Rejected by the Plastics –how does she compensate?

    Why does she dress the way she does?


    Rejected Kids At the highest social risk are “rejected kids.” There are two types:

    Rejected-submissive kids who become sad and withdrawn to avoid attracting attention

    Rejected-aggressive kids can become emotionally explosive if teased excessively. “These kids are not necessarily violent kids, but they are the kids who frequently act up and may wind up in the principal’s office,”

    Observational Learning


    Trying to bring down Regina, but what happens?





    Cady has the social acumen that Regina possesses.

    Uses it to take out Regina.

    “This pattern of aggression is among kids who are relatively popular targeting their rivals, and this tends to escalate until they climb to the very top rung of the social ladder,” Robert Faris(University of California Davis).




    Relational Aggression

    Viewing media images of relational aggression impacts subsequent aggression. Girls hide their aggression because they are taught not to be openly aggressive. Psychoanalysis Of “Mean Girls”

    The victim may desire an end to the cruelty, but she may still endure it in order to maintain her position within the group

    Cady comments (referring to Gretchen): “She knew it was better to be in The Plastics hating life than to not be in it at all.”

    Sometimes films show that it only takes one person to make a difference. If someone is willing to take a stand, then the mean girls will lose their power-but is this the case?

    Cecil (2008)


    Relational Aggression

    Mix of popularity and aggressive behavior

    “…girls are socially competitive creatures and that, in their efforts to be popular and powerful, they inflict lifelong damages on their victims.”

    While films typically portray aggression by teenage males as a serious moral issue, the mean girl is typically depicted in a comedic fashion. Psychoanalysis Of “Mean Girls”

    Cecil (2008)

    Relational Aggression


    Women can be extraordinarily mean. “When girls feel angry or resentful, they hurt one another by verbal insults, friendship manipulation, or nonverbal expressions of disgust or disdain.”

    “Girls attack each other with behaviors that might be less overt and obvious than boys’ fighting but are no less hurtful or injurious.

    Girls hurt each other’s feelings by social exclusion via sneers, verbal comments, nasty notes, gossip and texting.”

    Cecil (2008)




    Cady rises to power and takes over the role of queen bee






    Cady becomes a mean girl.




    The girls find out that nearly every girl has been victimized in this way. The teacher responds: “There has been some girl-on-girl crime here.” She has them write apologies and play trust games; however, this intervention is not successful in bringing these girls together.

    Why doesn’t this work? Can adults help?

    “…scoffs at the act’s potential to heal wound—in fact, it shows the possibly more realistic outcome of dividing the girls further”.

    Instead it is the popular student, Cady, that brings peace to the school.

    Cecil (2008)


    The film also sends a message about power. What do we have to do to become powerful? Who can stop this type of behavior?

    Having been raised in Africa, Cady commonly compares the rules of girl world to that of the African wilderness.

    Our society does not approve of females participating in open conflict, which helps socialize them to use the hidden tactics inherent in relational aggression.

    Cecil (2008)



    Moss (2005) comments, “the mean girl has been absorbed as a pop culture figure, while any insight regarding how she got that way (or the degree of cultural change necessary to eliminate her kind) is forgotten”

    Not one of the powerless victims fight back-why?

    Rather it is a former mean girl herself who is able to deal with the problem

    It has been reported that in childhood and adolescence, girls typically begin to experience a decrease in self-esteem whereas the self-esteem of boys typically increases or stays the same

    Pollastri et al. (2009) finds that girls who bully reported an increase in self-esteem

    The social advantage for girls of bullying appears to be related to an increase in these girls’ sense of global self-worth (stealing a boyfriend, etc.)




    On one hand, it becomes clear that girls depend on their female friends to navigate their way through life. These friendships can be strong and based on trust and support. Psychoanalysis Of “Mean Girls”

    On the other hand, one learns that girls can be extremely cruel to one another

    Pairing personal information with positive social feedback (Likes on Instagram or Facebook) can increase self-esteem.

    The relationship with aggression is strongest when high explicit self-esteem is combined with low implicit self-esteem, as it is in narcissism.

    Cecil (2008)




    Social dominance is more central to an adolescent girl’s global self-esteem.

    Regina-Fragile self-esteem






    At the end Cady gains a sense of implicit and explicit self-esteem-happy with who she is.


    https:// / watch?v = LshX2God-wk 5:10

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    Pollastri.pdf Violence

    Journal of Interpersonal The online version of this article can be found at:

    DOI: 10.1177/0886260509354579

    2009 2010 25: 1489 originally published online 29 DecemberJ Interpers Violence

    Alisha R. Pollastri, Esteban V. Cardemil, and Ellen H. O’Donnell Analysis

    Self-Esteem in Pure Bullies and Bully/Victims: A Longitudinal

    Published by:

    On behalf of:

    American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children

    can be found at:Journal of Interpersonal ViolenceAdditional services and information for Alerts:


    What is This?

    – Dec 29, 2009 OnlineFirst Version of Record

    – Jul 16, 2010Version of Record >>

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    Journal of Interpersonal Violence 25(8) 1489 –1502

    © The Author(s) 2010 Reprints and permission: http://www.

    DOI: 10.1177/0886260509354579

    Self-Esteem in Pure Bullies and Bully/Victims: A Longitudinal Analysis

    Alisha R. Pollastri,1 Esteban V. Cardemil,1 and Ellen H. O’Donnell1


    Past research on the self-esteem of bullies has produced equivocal results. Recent studies have suggested that the inconsistent findings may be due, in part, to the failure to account for bully/victims: those children who both bully and are victims of bullying. In this longitudinal study, we examined the distinctions among pure bullies, pure victims, bully/victims, and noninvolved children in a sample of 307 middle school students. Analyses of cross- sectional and longitudinal results supported the importance of distinguishing between pure bullies and bully/victims. In addition, results revealed some interesting sex differences: girls in the pure bully and bully/victim groups reported significant increases in self-esteem over time, with girls in the pure bully group reporting the greatest increase, whereas boys in these groups reported no significant changes in self-esteem over time. Psychoanalysis Of “Mean Girls”


    bullying, self-esteem, bully/victims, peer aggression, sex differences

    Bullying is a subset of aggressive behavior in which verbal or physical vio- lence is used over time in a relationship characterized by an imbalance of

    1Clark University, Worcester, MA

    Corresponding Author: Alisha R. Pollastri, Frances L. Hiatt School of Psychology, Clark University, 950 Main Street, Worcester, MA 01610 Email:

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    1490 Journal of Interpersonal Violence 25(8)

    strength and power (Olweus, 1993). In the United States, nearly 1 in 3 youths report that they are involved “moderately” or “frequently” in a bullying rela- tionship, and many researchers have found that such involvement (as bullies, victims, or both) is associated with poorer psychosocial adjustment and long- term negative consequences (for a review, see Smith, 2004).

    Although the relationships between bullying and psychosocial adjustment across many domains are well documented, results from the past decade’s research on the relationship between bullying and self-esteem in particular have been inconsistent. Identification of the factors that affect self-esteem is essential because self-esteem is arguably one of the central and most important aspects of the self-concept (Greenwald, Bellezza, & Banaji, 1988), having been found to affect competition, social conformity, attraction, achievement, helping, and coping with stressful life events (Campbell & Lavallee, 1993). Research has also suggested that self-esteem is closely related to depres- sion, hopelessness, and the contemplation of suicide (Nolen-Hoeksema, Larson, & Grayson, 1999). Moreover, research has found that self-esteem can be highly influenced by factors such as family experiences, peer interactions, and life events (Block & Robins, 1993), making it likely to be affected by experiences like bullying and victimization.

    Although change in self-esteem has been documented from late child- hood through early adulthood, research on self-esteem during the transition to middle school in particular has found that peer strain during this time can lead to decreased self-esteem (Fenzel, 2000; Wenz-Gross, Siperstein, Untch, & Widaman, 1997). Given that peer status in late elementary school remains generally stable into high school (Zettergren, 2005), it is particularly impor- tant to understand the ways in which peer strain, such as that caused by bullying and victimization, might affect self-esteem during this transition from late childhood into early adolescence. Psychoanalysis Of “Mean Girls”

    Research examining the relationship between bullying and self-esteem has primarily focused on the self-esteem of victims, and results consistently indi- cate that children who are victimized have significantly lower self-esteem than those who are not victimized (for a review, see Hawker & Boulton, 2000). However, research on children who bully others has not produced such clear results. It has often been assumed that those who bully have low self-esteem, but this assumption has received equivocal empirical support (see Baumeister, Smart, & Boden, 1996). Though some research has found that children who bully have lower self-esteem than those who do not bully (e.g., Rigby & Cox, 1996), others have found this not to be the case (e.g., Olweus, 1993; Slee & Rigby, 1993). Still others have found that children who bully have higher self- esteem than those who do not (Kaukiainen et al., 2002).

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    Pollastri et al. 1491

    What might explain these inconsistent findings? O’Moore and Kirkham (2001) argue that it may be due in part to the failure to account for bully/ victims: those children who both bully and are also victims of bullying. Research on this group of children suggests that, in general, bully/victims exhibit more disturbed psychosocial functioning as compared to pure vic- tims, pure bullies, and uninvolved children (Haynie et al., 2001; Schwartz, Proctor, & Chien, 2001). Bully/victims have been described as exhibiting an overreactive or emotionally dysregulated pattern of behavior, such that their aggressive behaviors are less goal directed and more reactive than the behaviors of children who bully but are not victimized (Olweus, 1978; Stephenson & Smith, 1989). In a promising series of studies by O’Moore and colleagues (for a summary, see O’Moore & Kirkham, 2001), the rela- tionship between bullying and self-esteem was inconsistent until bully/ victims were excluded from the sample. Psychoanalysis Of “Mean Girls”

    The recent move to conduct research on bully/victims has been valuable for a number of reasons. First, it has led to the identification of children who are most at risk for problems in adjustment (e.g., Schwartz et al., 2001). Second, the distinction between bully/victims and pure bullies has provided a possible clue as to the previously unclear relationship between bullying and self-esteem. That is, if previous research on bullies included children who should have more appropriately been considered bully/victims, then comparisons across studies would yield inconsistent and confusing results. To date, however, studies of bullying and self-esteem that account for bully/ victims are rare. Psychoanalysis Of “Mean Girls”

    The Current Study To further our understanding of the relationship between bullying and self- esteem, we conducted a study that addresses some of the limitations of prior research. First, we distinguished between pure bullies and bully/victims to extend the current research on bully/victims and to clarify the aforementioned inconsistent findings. Second, we conducted this study longitudinally, as, to our knowledge, no research has longitudinally examined the relationship between bullying and self-esteem in particular.

    In this study, therefore, we examine the concurrent and longitudinal rela- tionships between type of bullying involvement and self-esteem. We had several hypotheses. First, consistent with the research that has indicated an emotionally dysregulated coping pattern and the poorest psychosocial adjust- ment for children who are bully/victims, we predicted that the children in this group would have the lowest self-esteem at the start of the study and would

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    1492 Journal of Interpersonal Violence 25(8)

    report decreasing self-esteem over time. Second, consistent with the findings of O’Moore and Kirkham (2001), we predicted that children who endorsed bullying (but denied being a victim) at the beginning of the study would have higher self-esteem than pure victims and bully/victims. We also predicted that pure bullies would report increasing self-esteem over time, as engaging in bullying behaviors over time without also experiencing victimization by others may signify a dominant role in the social environment, which increases in importance as children enter adolescence (e.g., Wigfield & Eccles, 1996). Finally, it has been reported that in childhood and adolescence, girls typically begin to experience a decrease in self-esteem whereas the self-esteem of boys typically increases or stays the same (Block & Robins, 1993; McLeod & Owens, 2004). Therefore, we were interested in exploring whether a sex dif- ference exists in the relationship between involvement in the bullying relationship and the change in self-esteem over time. Psychoanalysis Of “Mean Girls”

    Method Participants

    Participants were students from four schools located in two cities in the northeast United States. Participants for this study were initially recruited for a longitudinal study examining depressive symptoms among a sample of low-income and minority children and were chosen because of proximity to the sponsoring university. All four schools were located in urban, low- to lower-income neighborhoods. Three of the four schools reported that the familial economic situations of more than 84% of the students made them eligible to receive free or reduced-price lunch. The fourth school reported that 44% of students were eligible to receive free or reduced-price lunch, which is still higher than the state average (29%). All four of the schools had very racially and ethnically diverse populations. Psychoanalysis Of “Mean Girls”

    Approval for this research was sought and obtained from the universi- ty’s institutional review board and the public school systems involved. A total of 565 consent forms were sent home to the parents of all 5th and 6th graders from the participating schools, and 307 children received parental consent and provided their own assent to participate in the study (170 fifth graders and 137 sixth graders). The average age of the children was 10.7 years at Time 1 and 12.2 years at Time 2. The racial/ethnic composition of the research sample was as follows: 13% African American, 7% Asian American, 26% White, 15% Cape Verdean, 28% Latino, 9% Other or Bira- cial, and 2% left this item blank.

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    Pollastri et al. 1493

    The data analyzed here represent the first and final (fourth) waves of data collection, which are separated by a period of 1.5 years (Fall Year 1 and Spring Year 2). For the purposes of this article, these waves will be referred to as Time 1 and Time 2. At Time 2, the total number of participants was reduced to 215 (122 girls and 93 boys), mostly due to high residential tran- sience. Reasonable efforts were made to locate children who dropped out of the study at each wave, and efforts were made to administer questionnaires to children who had transferred to other schools within the county.

    Procedure At the time of each assessment, participating students completed a series of self-report questionnaires, including those used in the present study, sitting in small groups of 5 to 15 students during school hours. Members of the research staff supervised children in this task, assisting any children who had difficulty with the instruments by reading portions to them. Teachers were not present in the room during data collection. All students who partici- pated in the study were given US$10 gift certificates to local shopping malls at each assessment point. Psychoanalysis Of “Mean Girls”

    Relevant Measures Self-esteem. The Self-Perception Profile for Children (SPPC; Harter, 1985)

    was chosen as it is widely used with good reliability and validity (Granleese & Joseph, 1994). As the purpose of this study was to extend and clarify prior research findings on the relationship between bullying behaviors and self- esteem, we examined the SPPC subscale for global self-esteem. This subscale includes the mean of five items scored on a 4-point Likert-type scale ranging from 1 to 4, with 4 representing higher self-esteem. The range of mean global self-esteem scores was 1.5 to 4.0 at Time 1 and 1.83 to 4.0 at Time 2. The internal reliability for the global self-esteem subscale of the SPPC was accept- able (a = .71 at Time 1 and .78 at Time 2).

    Bullying and victimization. The Bullying Behavior and Peer Victimization Scales (BBPVS; Austin & Joseph, 1996) are composed of 12 items that tap bullying behavior and peer victimization among children. These scales were constructed specifically for use with Harter’s SPPC, and as such, the BBPVS items are integrated within the SPPC. Each scale contains six items for which the participant chooses which statement of two is more true for him or her (e.g., “Some children are not called horrible names/Other children are often called horrible names”; “Some children do not hit and push other children

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    1494 Journal of Interpersonal Violence 25(8)

    around/Other children do hit and push other children around”), then chooses whether the selected statement is “really true for me” or “sort of true for me,” resulting in a 4-point Likert-type scale from 1 to 4, with higher scores repre- senting more victimization or more bullying behaviors. A mean score is calculated for each scale. At both time points, the range of scale scores was 1.0 to 4.0. The internal reliability for both scales was acceptable (a = .82 and .83). Psychoanalysis Of “Mean Girls”

    In past studies, researchers have used a cutoff score of 2.5 on each of the BBPVS scales to indicate high bullying or victimization (see Austin & Joseph, 1996). However, because of our use of sex as a variable of interest, it was necessary to identify those girls and boys that expressed more bully- ing and/or victimization behaviors relative to other same-sex peers. Because results indicated a trend for a significant sex difference in bullying involve- ment, c2(3, N = 273) = 6.36, p < .1, we created median splits for each sex (for bullying, boys median = 2.00, girls median = 1.67; for victimization, boys median = 2.00, girls median = 2.08). We used this median split to clas- sify children by their status as noninvolved (N = 107; 46 boys, 61 girls), pure bully (N = 34; 19 boys, 15 girls), pure victim (N = 34; 18 boys, 16 girls), or bully/victim (N = 93; 38 boys, 55 girls).

    One question that may arise from these results is whether, like self-esteem, the bullying behaviors of the participants changed over time. Examination of the data indicated that the bullying involvement group of more than half of the participants (52%) remained stable from Time 1 to Time 2. Of those who changed groups, the majority were children for whom bullying and victimiza- tion scores were closest to the median cutoff scores at Time 1. The purpose of this study was to examine change in self-esteem over time as predicted by bullying behaviors at Time 1; however, more information on the stability of bullying involvement over time can be found in the work of Pellegrini and Long (2002). Psychoanalysis Of “Mean Girls”

    Results Cross-Sectional Analyses

    We conducted cross-sectional analyses on Time 1 data to provide a point of reference for later analyses on change over time. One-way ANOVAs conducted on Time 1 data indicated significant main effects of sex, F(1, 284) = 7.44, p < .01, and bullying involvement type, F(3, 261) = 12.27, p < .0001, on global self-esteem. Overall, boys reported higher self-esteem than girls, and noninvolved children reported the highest self-esteem, followed by pure bullies, pure victims, and bully/victims. Figure 1 presents the mean self- esteem scores for each of the four bullying involvement types. Consistent

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    Pollastri et al. 1495







    Pure Victims (PV)

    Pure Bullies (PB)

    Bully/Victims (BV)

    Noninvolved (NI)

    M e a n

    S e lf

    -E s te

    e m

    a t T

    im e 1

    ( ±

    S E


    Combined Boys Girls

    Figure 1. Comparisons of baseline self-esteem by bullying involvement Note: The following comparisons were obtained with paired t tests: Combined sex comparisons: PV < NI***; PB > BV*; BV < NI***. Comparisons of boys: PV < NI*. Comparisons of girls: PV < NI**; PB > BV**; BV < NI***. Comparisons within bully involvement type: BV(B) > BV(G)***. *p < .05. **p < .01. ***p < .001.

    with our expectations, the self-esteem scores of bully/victims were signifi- cantly lower than those of pure bullies, t(122) = 2.53, p < .05.

    The interaction of bullying involvement type and sex also significantly predicted self-esteem at Time 1, above and beyond the main effects of the independent variables, F(7, 261) = 3.22, p < .05. Probing this interaction indicated that in the bully/victim group, boys had significantly higher self- esteem than girls (see Figure 1). In addition, girls in the pure bully group reported higher self-esteem than girls in the bully/victim group; this pattern was not evident for boys. Psychoanalysis Of “Mean Girls”

    Longitudinal Analyses To examine the extent to which bullying involvement type and sex were related to change in self-esteem over time, we conducted an ANCOVA in which we predicted self-esteem at Time 2, including both bullying involvement type and sex as independent variables and controlling for self-esteem at Time 1. Results indicated that neither bullying involvement type, F(3, 175) = 0.62, p = ns, nor sex, F(1, 192) = 2.71, p = ns, significantly predicted self-esteem at Time 2 when controlling for self-esteem at Time 1. However, the

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    1496 Journal of Interpersonal Violence 25(8)

    interaction of bullying involvement type and sex significantly predicted self-esteem at Time 2 when controlling for self-esteem at Time 1, F(8, 175) = 3.63, p < .05.

    Probing this interaction with paired t tests indicated that the self-esteem of girls showed a significant increase over time in both the pure bully, t(8) = –2.28, p = .05, and the bully/victim groups, t(34) = –2.44, p < .05, whereas the self- esteem of boys did not change significantly in either the pure bully, t(9) = 0.26, p = ns, or the bully/victim groups, t(26) = 0.00, p = ns (see Figure 2). In addi- tion, the girls in the pure bully group reported a significantly greater increase in self-esteem from Time 1 to Time 2 than the girls in the bully/victim group, t(43) = 1.98, p = .05. In contrast, the girls in the noninvolved group reported a significant decrease in self-esteem over time, t(43) = –2.20, p < .05, whereas the boys in the noninvolved group reported a significant increase in self- esteem over time, t(29) = 2.22, p < .05. Psychoanalysis Of “Mean Girls”

    Discussion The extant literature has produced inconsistent answers to the question of whether bullies have higher or lower self-esteem compared to other children. We argue that these inconsistencies may be due to the fact that previous clas- sifications of children who bully included two distinct groups of children with









    C h

    a n

    g e i n

    S e lf

    -E s te

    e m



    * *


    Pure Victims

    Pure Bullies

    Bully/ Victims

    Non- involved

    Figure 2. Change in self-esteem by sex and type of bullying involvement *Change significantly different from zero at p < .05.

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    Pollastri et al. 1497

    significant differences in self-esteem: pure bullies and bully/victims. Our findings provide support for this distinction in two ways. First, the self-esteem scores of bully/victims were significantly lower than those of pure bullies. And second, the girls in the pure bully group reported a significantly greater increase in self-esteem over time than the girls in the bully/victim group. Psychoanalysis Of “Mean Girls”

    In addition, results from this study contribute to a better understanding of how sex and bullying involvement influence self-esteem. Cross-sectional analyses indicated an overall pattern of results that is consistent with prior findings. Overall, boys reported higher self-esteem than girls. Noninvolved children had the highest self-esteem, followed by pure bullies and pure vic- tims. Consistent with emerging research on bully/victims (O’Moore & Kirkham, 2001), children in the bully/victim group reported the lowest self- esteem; however, further analyses suggest that this difference is seen only for the girls in this sample. This pattern of results suggests that boys who bully, regardless of whether they are victimized by others, have relatively high global self-esteem similar to boys who are not involved in the bullying relationship. On the contrary, girls who are victimized by others, whether they bully or not, appear to experience lower self-esteem as compared to girls who are not involved as bullies or victims. Psychoanalysis Of “Mean Girls”

    Longitudinal findings were partially consistent with our predictions. Inter- estingly, results indicated that a child’s sex affected his or her change in self-esteem. Specifically, whereas boys in the pure bully group and the bully/ victim group reported no significant change in self-esteem, girls in both groups reported a significant increase in self-esteem, with girls in the pure bully group reporting the greatest increase. This finding is intriguing for at least two reasons. First, it has been reported that in childhood and adoles- cence, girls typically begin to experience a decrease in self-esteem whereas the self-esteem of boys typically increases or stays the same (Block & Robins, 1993; McLeod & Owens, 2004). In our study, although girls in the nonin- volved group reported a reduction in self-esteem consistent with this literature, girls who bully reported an increase in self-esteem. Thus, consistent with notions reflected in popular media (like the movie “Mean Girls”) if not yet in the psychological literature, the social advantage for girls of bullying appears to be related to an increase in these girls’ sense of global self-worth. Psychoanalysis Of “Mean Girls”

    Second, this finding raises the question of why girls who bully report increasing self-esteem whereas boys who bully do not. It may be that, consis- tent with arguments that girls are more oriented toward interpersonal relationships than boys (e.g., Hall & Halberstadt, 1980), such social domi- nance may be more central to an adolescent girl’s global self-esteem. In addition, boys commonly bully in a more overt and physical manner than girls

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    1498 Journal of Interpersonal Violence 25(8)

    (Coie & Dodge, 1998). As many of the BBPVS items could be interpreted as reflective of either overt or covert behaviors (for example, “some children often pick on other children . . .”), girls and boys in the bullying groups may exhibit different behavioral profiles, with the boys’ bullying behaviors being more noticeable and socially unacceptable than the girls’ behaviors. Thus, teachers may be more likely to identify and punish boys who bully, thereby limiting any increase in self-esteem that may be associated with social dominance. Psychoanalysis Of “Mean Girls”

    This study’s findings should be interpreted in light of a number of limita- tions that provide avenues for future research. First, the limited stability of the categorical groupings used in this study was likely affected by many factors. One factor may have been the use of median splits to define our groups, and a second factor may have been the expectable change in such behavior over time across the age group studied (e.g., Pellegrini & Long, 2002). Although the stability of these categorizations is limited by use of a median split for categorization, use of a more conservative approach such as including only the top and bottom third of the sample, while eliminating much of the mobility between categories, reduced the power and eliminated significant effects for this sample. In future studies, larger sample sizes will allow researchers to use statistical methods in which they can examine changes in self-esteem for groups in which bullying behaviors stay largely the same as well as in groups in which bullying behaviors change over time. In addition, future research using hierarchical linear modeling (HLM), might explore whether the rela- tionship between bullying behaviors is dynamic; that is, bullying behaviors may affect changes in self-esteem, which may in turn affect changes in bul- lying behaviors.

    Second, there are inherent limitations to examining a global construct such as self-esteem as it relates to specific behaviors in children. For instance, fur- ther research will need to explore the relationship between bullying behaviors and more proximal factors such as friendship quality and loneliness to better understand factors that mediate the relationship between social behaviors and self-esteem. Similarly, future research should explore how the findings may be similar or different for other global constructs related to self-esteem, such as self-efficacy or sense of coherence. Psychoanalysis Of “Mean Girls”

    Third, this study draws exclusively on an urban sample, which is both a strength and limitation of the research. Though examining this phenomenon in an understudied population makes the study a valuable contribution to the literature, it should be considered that the rates of aggression in this popula- tion may be different than in a more representative sample, affecting the meaning of bullying and victimization in this group as well as

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    Pollastri et al. 1499

    the relationship between bullying or victimization and self-perceptions. In addition, because of the literature suggesting that self-esteem can vary across cultural groups (e.g., Heine, 2004), future research on factors associ- ated with self-esteem in diverse populations such as this one may consider exploring whether the relationships vary by race or ethnicity. Psychoanalysis Of “Mean Girls”

    Finally, the BBPVS, despite its widespread use in the bullying literature, does not allow us to discern between specific types of bullying. For instance, future studies may consider more directly assessing the implications on self-esteem of involvement in relational bullying; that is, bullying with psy- chological tactics (e.g., the withholding of friendships, spreading malicious gossip) rather than with physical or verbal approaches. Recent findings on relational and social aggression during childhood and adolescence (Ostrov & Crick, 2007; Underwood, 2003) suggest that this distinction may prove espe- cially helpful in understanding the relationship between bullying involvement and adjustment for girls. Psychoanalysis Of “Mean Girls”

    Despite the aforementioned limitations, this research supports our con- tention that research on bullying behavior should distinguish pure bullies from bully/victims. In addition, it suggests that type of bullying involve- ment, sex, and the interaction of these variables each plays an important role in the self-esteem of the children in this sample. To our knowledge, this is the first published study in which sex emerged as an important moderating factor of the relationship between bullying and self-esteem. This sex differ- ence, though not previously reported, is not completely surprising, due to the extensive literature that has found sex differences in both self-esteem (e.g., McLeod & Owens, 2004) and peer aggression (Coie & Dodge, 1998) in middle school children as well as the different social expectations and consequences for bullying in girls versus boys (e.g., Underwood, 2003). Psychoanalysis Of “Mean Girls”

    Further research in this area is warranted due to its implications for schools that are actively working toward reducing bullying behaviors and enhancing inclusive climates. For instance, this research suggests that there may be some sex-specific protective factors associated with bullying behav- iors. First, unlike girls in this sample, boys who were victimized by bullies had increased self-esteem if they bullied in addition to being victimized. Therefore, interventions that offer assertiveness training to victimized boys may have a positive impact on self-esteem, whereas the focus for victimized girls should be on discovering strategies for avoiding victimization. Second, unlike boys, girls who bullied reported increasing self-esteem over time. Perhaps future research on intervention programs to increase girls’ self- esteem could identify the protective functions that bullying may have for girls, such as providing feelings of efficacy and control, to explore ways to

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    1500 Journal of Interpersonal Violence 25(8)

    promote such functions without increasing or encouraging harmful bullying behaviors.


    The authors would like to thank Jacquellina Stanley for her contribution to the devel- opment of this work.

    Declaration of Conflicting Interests

    The authors declared no potential conflicts of interests with respect to the authorship and/or publication of this article.


    The authors disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research and/ or authorship of this article: This research was supported by a grant from the National Alliance for Research on Schizophrenia and Depression (NARSAD) to the second author.


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    Alisha R. Pollastri, MA, is a doctoral candidate in clinical psychology at Clark University. Her current clinical and research activities concern the social and emo- tional functioning of urban, low-income youth.

    Esteban V. Cardemil, PhD, is a professor of psychology at Clark University. His research focuses on the effects of race, ethnicity, and social class on psychopa- thology, with a particular emphasis on the applicability of cognitive and family models to depression. In addition, he has written about the incorporation of consid- erations of race, ethnicity, and culture into psychotherapy practice and research.

    Ellen H. O’Donnell, PhD, obtained her doctorate in clinical psychology from Clark University and is a child psychologist at Massachusetts General Hospital. Her research has focused on the relationship between family processes, cognition, and psychopathology in children.

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