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Psicologia USP

Print version ISSN 0103-6564On-line version ISSN 1678-5177

Psicol. USP vol.30  São Paulo  2019  Epub July 29, 2019

http://dx.doi.org/10.1590/0103-6564e190006 

ARTICLE

Prejudice and bullying: marks of socially induced psychic regression1 2

José Leon Crochicka  b  * 
http://orcid.org/0000-0002-2767-3091

aSingularidades Institute. São Paulo, SP, Brazil

bUniversity of São Paulo, Institute of Psychology. São Paulo, SP, Brazil


Abstract

The objectives of the research to be reported, based on studies of the critical theory of society, are: to distinguish forms of school violence - bullying and prejudice - and to relate them to different types of personality. Scales were used to detect sadomasochism, narcissism, the manifestation of prejudices and bullying. Such scales were applied to 161 students of a public university of São Paulo with the hypotheses that bullying and prejudice have a significant, but not full, relation; that the manifestation of prejudice is associated with sadomasochistic and narcissistic personality traits; and that the authorship of bullying is more related to narcissistic personality traits; the one who suffers bullying, in turn, would not be associated with any of the personality traits evaluated. These hypotheses have been confirmed, which, within the theoretical framework used, strengthens the analysis that if social progress as an end in itself perfects society, it causes, at the same time, individuals to regress psychically.

Keywords: bullying; prejudice; personality; critical theory of society

Resumo

Os objetivos da pesquisa a ser relatada, baseada nos estudos da teoria crítica da sociedade, são: distinguir formas de violência escolar - o bullying e o preconceito - e relacioná-las com tipos de personalidade. Foram utilizadas escalas que detectam o sadomasoquismo, o narcisismo, a manifestação de preconceitos e o bullying. Tais escalas foram aplicadas a 161 universitários paulistanos, com as hipóteses de que bullying e preconceito têm relação significante, mas não plena; que a manifestação de preconceito está associada com características de personalidades sadomasoquistas e narcisistas, e que a autoria do bullying está mais relacionada com características de personalidade narcisista; o que sofre o bullying, por sua vez, não estaria associado com nenhum tipo das características de personalidade avaliadas. Essas hipóteses foram confirmadas, o que, dentro do referencial teórico utilizado, fortalece a análise de que se o progresso social como fim em si mesmo aperfeiçoa a sociedade, ao mesmo tempo leva os indivíduos a regredirem psiquicamente.

Palavras-chave: bullying; preconceito; personalidade; teoria crítica da sociedade

Résumé

Les objectifs de la recherche à rapporter, basés sur des études de la théorie critique de la société, sont: distinguer les formes de violence à l’école - le harcèlement et les préjugés - et les relier à différents types de personnalité. Les échelles ont été utilisées pour détecter le sadomasochisme, le narcissisme, la manifestation de préjugés et le harcèlement. Ils ont été appliqués à 161 étudiants d’une université publique de São Paulo, avec l’hypothèse selon laquelle l’intimidation et les préjugés entretiennent une relation de magnitude importante mais pas complet; que la manifestation de préjugés est associée à des traits de personnalité sadomasochistes et narcissiques et que la paternité de l’intimidation est davantage liée à des traits de personnalité narcissiques; celui qui subit l’intimidation, à son tour, ne serait associé à aucun type de caractéristiques de personnalité évaluées. Ces hypothèses ont été confirmées, ce qui, dans le cadre théorique utilisé, confirme l’analyse selon laquelle si le progrès social est une fin en soi qui perfectionne la société, il provoque une régression psychique des individus.

Mots-clés: intimidation; préjugés; personnalité; théorie critique de la société

Resumen

Son objetivos de esta investigación basada en los estudios de la Teoría Crítica de la Sociedad: distinguir formas de violencia escolar -el bullying y el prejuicio- y relacionarlas con diversos tipos de personalidad. Se utilizaron escalas que detectan el sadomasoquismo, el narcisismo, la manifestación de prejuicios y el bullying. Se aplicaron a 161 alumnos de una universidad pública de São Paulo con las hipótesis de que bullying y prejuicio tienen una significativa relación, pero no plena; de que la manifestación de prejuicio está asociada con características de personalidad sadomasoquistas y narcisistas, y de que la autoría del bullying está más relacionada con características de personalidad narcisista; el que sufre bullying, a su vez, no está asociado con ninguna clase de características de personalidad evaluadas. Estas hipótesis fueron confirmadas, lo que dentro del referencial teórico utilizado comprueba el análisis de que el progreso social como fin en sí mismo perfecciona la sociedad, al mismo tempo lleva a la regresión psíquica de los individuos.

Palabras clave: bullying; prejuicio; personalidad; teoría crítica de la sociedad

Introduction

In May 2018, Law nº 13,663 was promulgated, which, among other responsibilities of the school, includes the creation of a “culture of peace” and measures of awareness, prevention and combating of various types of school violence, especially bullying, which shows the importance given to this phenomenon, not only by educators, but also politicians.

According to Cano-Echeverri and Vargas-Gonzalez (2018), school bullying exists since schools first came to be, but scientific research on it started being conducted in the 1970s, with Norwegian psychologist Dan Olweus. The academic interest on the subject increased with the suicide of three 14-year-old students, mainly due to the continuous aggression of their colleagues. From then on, governments from other countries - England, Italy, Canada, Japan, the United States, Australia - started recognizing bullying as a serious problem to be overcome.

School bullying has been defined as the hostility of an older or stronger student, or group of students, intentionally and often addressed to the same student, who cannot react sufficiently to avoid the aggression, and that may generate several consequences for those affected, from great anguish to murder and suicide (Cano-Echeverri & Vargas-Gonzalez, 2018; Chaves & Souza, 2018; Fante, 2005; Pinheiro & Willians, 2009).

According to Cuervo, Quintana, Martínez and Amezaga (2018), bullying differs from other forms of aggression because it is systematically repeated in the context of interpersonal relationships, with asymmetry of power between aggressor and victim. According to Cano-Echeverri and Vargas-Gonzalez (2018), most scholars of school bullying define it as an unequal relationship between students; other forms of school violence should have other definitions.

The characteristic roles in bullying are highlighted by Albuquerque, Williams and D’Affonseca (2013): aggressor, followers of the aggressor, spectators and victim or target of the aggression. These roles, however, are not fixed, and there may be alternation between them, as a victim may become an aggressor in another situation.

The observers of bullying, according to Cano-Echeverri and Vargas-Gonzalez (2018), Chaves and Souza (2018) and Voors (2006), may be afraid that they themselves become victims if they interfere to cease the violence, feeling powerless. Cano-Echeverri and Vargas-Gonzalez (2018) argue that some of the observers do not interfere because they think it is not their problem, showing indifference and coolness in the face of violence. Most students, according to Veiga Simão, Freire and Ferreira (2004), are observers of bullying and do not react against the violence.

In general, the perpetrators of the aggression have difficulties to follow social boundaries and unleash their aggressiveness when they can, with no apparent reason; the act of bullying, by expressing this non-containment of impulses that lead to destructive behaviors, strengthens the maintenance in its author of a psychologically regressed developmental stage (Crochik, 2014). The targets, in turn, may feel depressed and/or resentful (Barcaccia, Schneider, Pallini, & Baiocco, 2017), leading, in extreme cases, to suicide or revenge by means of murders.

According to Cano-Echeverri and Vargas-Gonzalez (2018), the aggressors seek the recognition of their colleagues, either by admiration or fear. The victims are considered as less popular in school, which is associated with their isolation, a reason that may lead to them being chosen by the perpetrators of the aggression, which is corroborated by Barrios (2014), who highlights researches that define the victim as predisposed to isolation and loneliness and lacking social networks that can offer support, in addition to showing high levels of depression.

If bullying has no specific targets, except for perceived fragility - in accordance with what was explained in the preceding paragraph - in prejudice, according to Jodelet (2006), these targets are pre-judged so as to justify the exercise of violence against them. It is an attitude (Krech, Crutchfield, & Ballachey, 1975) that, as such, entails a cognitive dimension, expressed in its contents in the form of stereotypes, on affective dimension related to values and emotions, also having a tendency to action which, according to Amaral (1995) and Crochik (2011), can be expressed in three different ways: (1) hostility against the target; (2) overprotection of the target, which indicates the non-acceptance of the hostility in relation to this target, converted in its opposite; (3) apparent indifference towards the target. The first two forms, according to Crochik (2011), would be related to denied identifications - not admitting that the desires and expectations projected on the targets are those of the prejudiced - and the last form would be associated with a denial of any and all identification, reducing all, and themselves, to objects to be manipulated, which would be illustrated by the manipulative type, described by Adorno, Frenkel-Brunswik, Levinson and Sanford (1950). According to Tuffin (2017), prejudice is addressed to social groups, such as those that are colonized by stronger groups from a warlike point of view.

The relationship between bullying and prejudice is studied by Antunes and Zuin (2008) and Chaves and Souza (2018), who argue that the latter phenomenon is the basis of the former. The authors argue that bullying is a concept generated by instrumental reason - as defined by Horkheimer (1946/2015) - to replace the discussion on prejudice proposed by Horkheimer, Adorno and others in their studies, such as in Elements of antisemitism (Horkheimer & Adorno, 1947/1985) and The authoritarian personality (Adorno et al., 1950).

For Antunes and Zuin (2008, p. 36), the concept of bullying is similar to the concept of prejudice, “especially when it is reflected on the social factors that determine target groups, and on the signs of the psychic function for those considered aggressors.” In contrast to this understanding, the study conducted by Souza (2013) indicates that students who are targets of bullying think that the aggression occurs mainly due to their phenotypic characteristics (66.6%), and less frequently due to reasons attributed to racism (10.1%), homophobia (9.3%) and religion (6.2%); that is, in prejudice, the targets belong to social minorities; in bullying, they are not restricted to these.

The concept of bullying, according to Chaves and Souza (2018), considered as an individual attitude, detached from a sociological analysis such as that performed by the Frankfurtians, would reduce the discussion of this form of violence, previously delimited as prejudice, to individual and family characteristics.

Some consider bullying to be related to prejudice, but different from it (Batista, 2011; Pinto & Branco 2011). In the words of Batista (2011), “not all aggression is bullying, but bullying is always an aggression, with its own characteristics that set it apart from other forms of violence, albeit intrinsically related to prejudices, discrimination, among others.” In this sense, it can be affirmed that the relationship to be established between prejudice and bullying should not overlook the differences between the two phenomena.

Silva et al. (2018) and Souza (2013) indicate characteristics that are common to the targets of bullying that cause them to be perceived by the perpetrators of the aggression as not likely to offer resistance: passivity, low self-esteem, depression, few friends. As can be noted, no specific social group or minority is delimited, but rather, personal characteristics. Students who suffer bullying seem to have relationship difficulties, but that are not necessarily related to the group to which they belong; of course, this may occur if they belong to a socially devalued group, but in this case, it would be a case of prejudice, not bullying.

The criticism addressed to the creation of the term “bullying” to name an existing phenomenon (prejudice) are is fundamental to understand contemporary violence, because if it is the same type of violence, why are their definitions addressed to the manifestations of different situations? As there have been few studies proposing the distinction between these phenomena, and this seems to be an important question to be answered, it served as the basis for one of this research’s objectives, the results of which will be reported further ahead.

In a research with elementary school students where we associated school bullying with prejudice, there was a significant positive correlation between the students’ indication as perpetrators of bullying and prejudice towards fragile targets (r=0.14; p<0.05) (Crochik, 2014). This indication of the student as an aggressor is also significantly correlated with prejudice against students considered to misbehave, but this time negatively (r=-0.16; p<0.01). Thus, the more the student was indicated as an aggressor, the more he/she showed prejudice against students considered fragile, and the less he/she showed prejudice against those who were considered to misbehave. Although these correlations are significant, it should be noted that they were of low magnitude, which corroborates the position that there is a relationship between the two phenomena, that is however not full.

In relation to these distinctions, Crochik (2015) argues that in prejudice there is a delimited target, on which the individual projects expectations, fears and desires that he/she him/herself cannot admit; on the other hand, the author of bullying needs a target, any one that he/she can get to submit to his/her will of domination and destruction of the will of others, as corroborated by Chaves and Souza (2018).

Goodboy, Martin and Rittenour (2016) revealed the relationship between intolerant patterns of sexism, racism, religion, etc. and the practice of bullying; according to them, those who are prejudiced had the same actions associated with bullying in relation to the discriminated groups, from what it could be inferred that the two phenomena may not be distinct. However, it should be argued against this similarity that: (1) certain types of prejudice deemed as “subtle”, because they do not have the same visibility of flagrant prejudices, according to Meertens and Pettigrew (1999), may not be regarded as bullying; (2) the type of prejudice that appears to be its opposite (exaggerated affection towards members of discriminated groups) would also not be characterized as bullying. Thus, actions that are typically attributed to bullying can also be addressed to the targets of prejudice, but certain forms of prejudice would not be regarded as bullying; moreover, bullying should not be characterized as a form of discrimination that is akin to prejudice, as it has, as will be shown further ahead, a distinct psychic motivation.

As we have discussed in another study (Crochik, 2015), both phenomena can be repeatedly directed to the same targets over a long period of time, and in these two forms of violence one may characterize the action of stronger or smarter groups or individuals for the domination of other people. But in the case of prejudice, even fragile individuals can develop them, and discrimination occurs in a subtler way. The domination expressed in prejudice needs its aim for the continuity of the projection of its desires, fears, expectations; the domination expressed in bullying aims to destroy the target, who can quickly be replaced by another.

A psychological and social explanation of the formation of prejudice, although still not named in this way, is given by Freud (1930/2011), which also sheds light on the origin of the formation of groups. Freud argues that prejudice occurs when there is an external target capable of suspending the tendency to aggression among individuals in the same group; the violence that would be addressed to the members of the group itself is diverted to individuals from other groups. This deviation of violence towards individuals outside the group to which one belongs would explain why neighboring peoples have reciprocal hostilities, as well as the persecution of the Jewish people. In this sense, prejudice would be necessary for the formation and maintenance of groups; this hostility is eliminated if the conflicting groups unite against another common target.

But there is, according to Freud (1930/2011), a tendency to destruction that would be inherent to every form of life. This tendency is revealed in the hostility against civilization as a whole, and the more there is progress, the more this tendency is strengthened; this more diffuse tendency seems to relate to what we now call bullying. In this way, according to these considerations of Freud (1930/2011), prejudice would be necessary to unite and preserve a group, and the aggressiveness we deem to be present also in bullying would be a continuous risk to civilizations that religious precepts, among other social resources, try to control. Marcuse (1981) considers that if a civilization generates less tension, this destructive tendency will diminish.

According to Horkheimer and Adorno (1947/1985), the more society develops itself technically, the less individuals differentiate from one another. These authors argue that in the Nazi regime there was no antisemitism, as it was a form of a less developed individual that allowed part of the support of this system, not disregarding that, for the existence of this same system, the objective interests of certain social groups predominated.

Of the authoritarian personality types analyzed by Adorno et al. (1950), we can distinguish between those who have the ambivalence of feelings towards authority as the basis of their prejudices, which would result in sadomasochistic tendencies, and the one that is considered the most dangerous: the manipulator, who still has traces of an anal character, as described by psychoanalysis, as well as extreme narcissism, superficiality and emptiness, taking pleasure in manipulating objects, including people, to be efficient. This analysis indicates that the scales built to evaluate antisemitism, ethnocentrism and fascism may also be evaluating narcissistic traits. This type is once again described in a text published in the mid 1960s (Adorno, 1995), indicating its ever-increasing presence in a society obsessed with productivity and technology as ends in themselves. Thus, among the authoritarian personalities, we can infer that there are those closest to what would be a prejudiced individual - the authoritarian type and the delinquent type - and a type of personality that is more psychically regressed - the manipulative type -, whose needs would be less determined by the individual than those of the prejudiced, not delimitating specific targets, but the necessity of their destruction with cruelty, which we deem similar to what occurs with the perpetrators of bullying.

Thus, the criticism made to the concept of bullying for it being the product of instrumental reason, which would conceal the social and psychic reasons of prejudice (Antunes and Zuin, 2008; Chaves and Souza, 2018), can be answered by considering that bullying is a form of individual manifestation triggered by a very developed society that brings with it less developed psychic needs than those present in the individual in whom prejudice is more ingrained, indicating that, with the changes in the structure of society, characterized mainly by the passage of mercantilist capitalism to that of monopolies, the structure of the prejudiced personality not only changes, but becomes less developed, as argued by Horkheimer and Adorno (1947/1985). As this is a tendency, the new personality structures, even more frequent, exist along previous ones, allowing us to conclude that there are individuals who are prone to the development of prejudices and/or to the authorship of bullying.

Other studies associate personality structures with the authorship of bullying and prejudice. Goodboy and Martin (2015), using a test that verifies three types of personality - narcissism, psychopathy and Machiavellianism -, verified, in university students, that these types correlate with the authors of cyberbullying, but that psychopathy is the only type with significance as its predictor. Regarding the prejudice against homosexual individuals, Lingiardi et al. (2016), in Italy, used Cattel’s personality battery and found that more conservative people from a religious and political standpoint, characterized by a more conformed, moralist and heteronomous personality, are more prone to homophobia, which corroborates the results obtained in the research by Adorno et al. (1950) on the authoritarian personality type.

As mentioned earlier, Silva et al. (2018) and Souza (2013) indicate that the victims of bullying have characteristics related to the lack of adequate social skills, such as social isolation and ineffective coping strategies, such as crying and ignoring the aggressor. These strategies, in general, indicate that the victims are not socially competent, as they signal to the aggressors the absence of conditions for self-defense, which causes the violence to intensify. For the aggressors, according to these authors, there is no consensus in the literature, although there are indications that they have difficulties to cope with interpersonal challenges, and that the improvement in their social skills, especially empathy, can reduce the intensity of their aggressions.

As emphasized above, as the author of bullying does not have a specific reason to exercise it, except for the aforementioned psychosocial needs, it can be assumed that his/her personality is not very structured, as he/she seeks targets on whom to unleash destructive impulses aimed at damaging them psychic and physically. While his/her motives may be associated with the desire to belong to groups which he/she feels excluded from, in this case, this very desire is achieved with the destruction of the group to which he/she intends to belong to, replacing in the school, for example, socially cultured values - learning, culture, understanding, sensibility - with more questionable ones: strength and violence (Crochick & Crochick, 2017).

The author of bullying, aiming at domination, according to Chaves and Souza (2018), has the goal of destroying the will of the other as a desperate way to be recognized by a group that disregards him/her. His/her narcissistic wounds, triggered by non-belonging, may generate a desire to stand over those who cannot react, but who nevertheless belong to these groups. Thus, their targets may represent fragility, but also what they themselves cannot be and feel: fragile and part of the group.

According to Green (1988), narcissism can be defined as a psychic configuration or as personality traits that are characterized by the withdrawal of the individual’s interest from external reality, focusing on his/her own self. The objectives of the relations established by this type of personality aim, above all, at the satisfaction of the individual’s desires, not social coexistence; these objectives developed by narcissists are contrary to the emergence of the individual who arises from the association between consciousness and social needs (Adorno, 2015). According to Freud (1914/1996a), libido can be directed to objects that are external to the self or stay focused on it, the latter being true especially in moments of suffering, and emphasizes that the “cure” of narcissism would be the love of the object. Lasch (1983) indicates that narcissism corresponds to the oral phase of psychosexual development, as described by psychoanalysis; it is more regressed than sadomasochism, because it refers to a state without an external object (Laplanche & Pontalis, 1988); sadomasochism, on the other hand, despite typically belonging to an autoerotic phase, requires the object for the satisfaction of its need of domination-submission.

According to Cano-Echeverri and Vargas-Gonzalez (2018), the authors of bullying are often not concerned about what their victims feel, and lack remorse as well as compassion. According to the authors, research shows that the aggressors are also characterized by their difficulties in establishing personal relationships, even if to a lesser extent compared to their victims, as well as by their insecurities and violent tendencies, through which they try to attract attention and dominate others.

The study by Zambuto, Palladino, Nocentini and Menesini (2018) reinforces the argument about the lack of concern with the targets on the part of the author of the aggression, indicating that students who have been victims of bullying tend to offer themselves to assist colleagues subjected to it in “peer education” programs, while the perpetrators of bullying are not motivated to participate in these programs. If on the one hand victims can identify each other, the author of bullying, on the other, does not tend to this identification even after participating in an awareness program, and the difficulty of identifying with others is also characteristic of narcissists.

In summary, the psychic needs expressed in sadomasochism seem to relate more to prejudice than to bullying, and narcissistic psychic needs seem to be related to the authorship of bullying, with those who support it and with prejudice; in relation to the target and the observers of bullying, they seem not to be associated, predominantly, with neither of these two types of personality.

Considering what has been developed, the objectives of this research will be: (1) to verify the relationship between manifestations of prejudice and the various roles assumed in bullying; and (2) to verify the relationship between sadomasochism and narcissism, on the one hand, and prejudice and bullying, on the other, specifying the roles exercised in bullying: none, author, supporter, observer and target.

Method

The study included 161 second-year students from a public university in São Paulo: 56 from the field of Biological Sciences, 61 from the field of Humanities and 44 from the field of Exact Sciences; 51 female; their mean age being 22.7 years old with 3.3 standard deviation. We used the following instruments for data collection: (1) personal data questionnaire (this questionnaire aims to collect general information about the subjects: higher education, sex, date of birth); (2) Likert-type scales: scale of fascism (scale F), scale of narcissistic personality traits (scale N) and scale of manifestation of prejudices (scale P).

As these three scales are of the Likert type, each has a six-point continuum, with the term disagree on the left side of the continuum, and the term agree on the other. The higher the score, the greater the propensity for the individual to be considered sadomasochistic, narcissistic and prejudiced. The description of each of them follows below.

Scale of fascism

The scale of fascism (scale F) was used in this study to verify sadomasochistic personality traits. Built by Adorno et al. (1950), in the United States, in the 1940s, it was translated by us and used in studies with university students (Crochik, 2005; Crochik, 2009). The Cronbach’s Alphas for the scale’s application to the students of these studies ranged from 0.77 to 0.84. Galeão-Silva (2007) applied the same version translated by us in a research with university students, and obtained a Cronbach’s alpha equal to 0.81. The scale used in this study has 28 items and an alpha equal to 0.85.

Scale of narcissistic personality traits

The construction of the scale of narcissistic personality traits (scale N)7 was based on the texts of Freud (1921/1993, 1914/1996a, 1905/1996b, 1917/1996c, 1931/1996d, 1930/2011), Green (1988), Adorno (1955/2015), Costa (1984), Lasch (1983), Mullins and Kopelman (1988) and Raskin and Hall (1979). Some of its questions seek to reveal attitudes that indicate the fragility of a psychic self, either because the individual’s moral conscience (superego) is not developed and he/she needs the constant appreciation of others for lacking internalized references, or because he/she has a rigid, externalized superego, which must punish a poorly structured self when it does not reach these external ideals.

The N scale was initially applied to a sample of 162 students from the University of São Paulo, from the Psychology, Nursing and Speech Therapy courses, in 1996 and 1997 (Crochik, 2000). The scale with the best 16 items regarding the psychometric indices obtained an alpha equal to 0.76 in another study (Crochik, 2005). Tecedeiro (2010) applied this scale to a sample of 68 Portuguese advertisers to see its relationship with the burnout phenomenon, which was effectively established, thus giving another indicator of its validity. For this study, a version with 15 items was used and 0.80 Cronbach’s alpha was obtained.

Scale of manifestation of prejudices

The scale of manifestation of prejudices (P scale) was built by Crochik and Casco and presented by Crochik (2005), after which it was reduced to 24 items, a quarter for each of the following groups: black, Jewish, individual with physical disability and individual with intellectual disability. The authors had as reference other scales, such as those built by Adorno et al. (1950), and the literature on prejudice against these groups. We delimited the construct of prejudice as an attitude based on the psychic needs of the prejudiced that are projected on their target; it would be antagonistic to experience and aimed at socially established minorities. We also applied this scale to samples of university students (Crochik, 2005; Crochik, 2009), and the Cronbach’s alphas found ranged from 0.70 to 0.90.

In the current research, items on prostitution, homosexuality and drug addiction were added, and items regarding other minorities were removed; the alpha found, with 14 items, was equal to 0.80.

Scale of participation in bullying

This scale, aimed at registering the interviewed students’ participation in bullying, is composed of two sets of questions. The first objective is to verify the types of roles of the participants of school bullying (none, author, supporter, observer and/or target). For this, it is asked which of these types of participation the interviewees exercised; whether they supported, observed or were subjected to several actions considered as aggressive: cursing, threat of bodily aggression, bodily aggression, rumors, exclusion/rejection, offensive nicknames, non-authorized sexual caresses and cyberbullying. These categories were based on studies of the literature on the subject.

Subsequently, two other questions were asked to those who indicated themselves as authors, supporters, observers and targets of the types of aggression evaluated. It was asked: (1) if these actions were repeated over a long period of time, and (2) against the same students, who failed to resist sufficiently, or against the interviewee him/herself, who failed to resist sufficiently. Affirmative answers would characterize bullying, either as authorship, support, observation and/or as target. Each student obtained four scores, one for each type of role assumed, which ranged from zero, in case of negative answers to one of these two questions, to one, in case of affirmative answers to both questions.

Data collection procedure

The research and its objectives were presented to all participants, who received the free and informed consent form, which explains the guarantee of anonymity, also in possible publications resulting from the research, the possibility to stop answering whenever they wished and all assistance to their welfare. The project was submitted to the Ethics Committee of the Institute of Psychology of the University of São Paulo and obtained favorable opinion number 1,218,644, on September 8, 2015.

The applications were conducted collectively in classrooms, by two researchers who gave the instructions for filling out the instruments and answered the doubts expressed. The instruments were presented in the following order: personal data questionnaire, F, N, P scales - with the order of presentation of the items having been randomly drawn, independently of the scale to which they belonged - and the bullying measurement scale.

Data analysis procedures

As, in relation to the scores obtained in the F, P and N scales, we did not find significant differences between university fields with the analysis of variance, nor between the sexes with Student’s T-Test, and also no significant correlation between these scores and age, we performed all calculations while jointly considering the data of the 161 students.

To verify if there was a relationship between the scores of the F, P and N scales, we used Pearson’s correlation; and to verify whether the practitioners, supporters, observers and targets of bullying differ from non-practitioners, non-supporters, non-observers, non-targets of bullying, regarding these scores, we employed Student’s T-test for the independent samples. To verify whether the types of participation in bullying are associated with each other, we used the chi-square test. A 0.01 significance level was adopted.

Results

Firstly, we will present the correlations between the scores of the three Likert-type scales to verify the possible relationships between sadomasochism, narcissism and prejudice, to then expose the association of the differences between the participants and the non-participants in the several roles exercised in bullying with sadomasochism, narcissism and prejudice, and the relationship of these roles with each other, thus fulfilling the two objectives explained at the end of the introduction.

Significant correlations between the three scales were found. Among the scores of the scale of fascism and those of the scale of narcissistic traits, the correlation obtained was 0.60, indicating that the more sadomasochistic traits the participant has, the more narcissistic traits he/she will show, and vice-versa. Thus, it can be assumed that the configuration of the authoritarian personality given by Adorno et al. (1950) is not only composed of sadomasochistic traits, but also of narcissistic ones, which is illustrated in the description of the manipulative type, as already mentioned. On the other hand, narcissism also contains aggressive impulses, as analyzed by Lasch (1983).

The correlation found between the scores of the scale of fascism and the scale of manifestation of prejudice was 0.66, indicating that the former evaluates prejudice effectively, as intended by its authors. The characteristics of the fascist ideology manifested by attitudinal positions before several facts are correlated with prejudiced attitudes towards several targets, which also strengthens the already proven hypothesis of the authors of The Authoritarian Personality, that the latter should be understood from a more general perspective - referred to by Horkheimer and Adorno (1947/1985) as “ticket mentality” - because they express profound personality tendencies.

Between the scores of the scale of narcissistic characteristics and the scale of manifestation of prejudices, 0.60 correlation was obtained. Thus, part of the explanation of the manifestation of prejudice is due to those characteristics, which can be illustrated with the concept of narcissism of the small differences, described by Freud (1930/2011), and the imaginary threat that the target of prejudice represents may lead to self-preservation, which requires the redirecting of the interest of worldly objects to the self. In this sense, the discrimination of another group would allow the illusion of strengthening of this threatened self.

In any case, due to the correlations obtained, one may think that prejudice is the result of both sadomasochistic tendencies and narcissistic impulses, as can be verified in the manipulative type, described by Adorno et al. (1950).

Table 1 shows the means, standard deviations and results of the statistical test, which compares the group of participants who practice bullying with those who do not, according to the scores obtained in the scales of narcissism, fascism and manifestation of prejudice.

Table 1 Comparison between practitioners and non-practitioners of bullying regarding the scores obtained in the N, F and P scales 

Variable Practiced N Mean Deviation Statístics (159 d.free)
Narcissism No 123 3.2 0.8 T=2.67; p=0.01
Yes 38 3.6 0.7
Fascism No 123 2.3 0.6 T=2.02; p=0.05
Yes 38 2.5 0.6
Prejudice No 123 2.0 0.6 T=1.75; p=0.08
Yes 38 2.2 0.7

According to the information listed in Table 1, we may note that almost one-fourth of the participants mentioned having practiced bullying against peers in high school; these authors of bullying obtained higher means in the three variables evaluated than their peers, but at the level of significance adopted in this study, only narcissism differed in the groups. Thus, we can affirm that narcissistic personality traits are associated with practices of this form of violence; sadomasochism, despite pointing to this trend8, did not differ in the groups; and prejudice was not associated with the practice of bullying, contrary to what some authors advocate (Antunes & Zuin, 2008; Chaves & Souza, 2018). The hypothesis developed in the introduction of this work is strengthened by these data: narcissism is more related to the practice of bullying than sadomasochism.

The means and standard deviations of the scores obtained in the scales of narcissism, fascism and manifestation of prejudice for students who support bullying or not are shown in Table 2, as well as the results of Student’s T-Test for the independent samples comparing them.

Table 2 Comparison between supporters and non-supporters of bullying regarding the scores obtained in the N, F and P scales 

Variable Supported N Mean Deviation Statistics
Narcissism No 136 3.2 0.7 T=2.70; p=0.01
Yes 25 3.6 0.6
Fascism No 136 2.3 0.6 T=1.24; p=0.22
Yes 25 2.5 0.5
Prejudice No 136 2.0 0.6 T=1.24; p=0.22
Yes 25 2.1 0.7

It is noted from the data in Table 2 that there are fewer participants who admit to being supporters of bullying in high school, than participants who admit to being perpetrators of it; if all supporters are authors, then almost a third of the practitioners act alone, opposing the idea of this being an aggression that is always practiced in groups, even though that is true for most cases, according to these data. Indeed, there was significant association between these two actions (X2=52.21; 1 degree of freedom; p<0.01): 118 participants did not practice and did not support bullying, and 20 practiced and supported it; on the other hand, 5 of the participants supported bullying, but did not practice it, and 18 practiced it, but did not support it.

The association between the support and authorship of bullying described in the preceding paragraph may explain the fact that the results obtained in the comparisons between the two groups - supporters and non-supporters - are similar to those obtained in the comparison between authors and non-authors: only narcissistic personality traits significantly differ between them. As supporters, the narcissistic desires of individuals can be vicariously satisfied. In the case of supporters, as in the case of perpetrators of bullying, the distinction of their relationship with narcissism and with sadomasochism is clear; moreover, those who practice and support bullying are not necessarily prejudiced.

Table 3 shows the means and standard deviations of the scores obtained in the scales of narcissism, fascism and manifestation of prejudice for the participants who observed bullying or not. The results of Student’s T-test for the independent samples comparing both groups are also found in this table.

Table 3 Comparison between observers and non-observers of bullying regarding the scores obtained in the N, F and P scales  

Variable Observed N Mean Deviation Statistics
Narcissism No 61 3.2 0.7 T=2.14; p=0.03
Yes 100 3.4 0.8
Fascism No 61 2.2 0.6 T=1.84; p=0.07
Yes 100 2.4 0.6
Prejudice No 61 2.0 0.6 T=0.60; p=0.55
Yes 100 2.1 0.6

Although the data in Table 3 indicate a similar direction to the others, in relation to narcissism, there were no significant differences at the level adopted. It is important to note that this trend only occurred in relation to this variable, and not in relation to sadomasochism and prejudice, that is, the observation of bullying is not related to the fact that the observer is either not sadomasochistic and/or prejudiced, but with a trend to narcissism that is greater than among those who reported not having observed bullying during high school.

Of the 38 perpetrators of bullying, 30 (79%) were also observers, but of the 123 non-practitioners, 70 (57%) were observers. This implies that there are, among observers, those who must draw satisfaction from the observation, and others who do not. There was a significant association in relation to these two variables at the adopted level (X2=5.991; 1 d. free.; p=0.01); those who practiced bullying also observed it, and those who did not practice it, observed it to a lesser extent; the former would be “active” observers and the latter would be indifferent, as shown in the study by Cano-Echeverri and Vargas-Gonzalez (2018), or afraid of being the next targets, as indicated by Chaves and Souza (2018) and Voors (2006).

Table 4 shows the means and standard deviations of the scores obtained in the scales of narcissism, fascism and manifestation of prejudice for the participants subjected and not subjected to bullying, as well as the results of Student’s T-Test for the independent samples comparing both groups.

Table 4 Comparison between respondents subjected and not subjected to bullying regarding the scores obtained in the N, F and P scales 

Variable Target N Mean Deviation Statistics
Narcissism No 101 3.3 0.8 T=0.79; p=0.43
Yes 60 3.4 0.7
Fascism No 101 2.3 0.6 T=0.49; p=0.68
Yes 60 2.3 0.5
Prejudice No 101 2.1 0.6 T=0.50; p=0.62
Yes 60 2.1 0.6

According to the data in Table 4, the means of the two groups are very similar and do not tend to be different. As occurred in some cases of the previous tables, the target of bullying may or may not be narcissistic, authoritarian or prejudiced, but there was a significant association between being the author and the target of bullying (X2=32.441, 1 degree of freedom; p=0.00). Indeed, of the 38 participants who admitted to being perpetrators of bullying in high school, 29 had also been subjected to it, while 31 of the 123 who were not perpetrators of bullying had been subjected to it. By relating the results of Table 1 to those explained in this paragraph, we can assume that those who are simultaneously authors and targets tend to be narcissistic.

As this is an exploratory study with a non-representative sample, it would be appropriate to replicate it, having as control variables the subjects’ gender and age, which were not considered in this study. However, the data indicate that: (1) the two forms of violence - prejudice and bullying - may be correlated, but are distinct; (2) prejudice is related to authoritarianism and narcissism, and the support to and practice of bullying, more to narcissism than to sadomasochism; (3) those subjected to bullying are not different from those not subjected to it in relation to being narcissistic, authoritarian or prejudiced; and (4) authors of bullying tend to be, on different occasions, supporters, observers and targets of it.

In relation to the first consideration, contrary to what Antunes and Zuin (2008) and Chaves and Souza (2018) propose, one should be aware of the phenomenon of bullying as a form of violence that is not explicable solely from the individual or family point of view, and that its increase should be associated with the social changes that entail it. As for the second and third indications, it may be said that they confirm the analyses of Horkheimer and Adorno (1947/1985) and Adorno (1955/2015), when affirming that social progress, based on the advancement of technology and on the administration of human beings as things, leads individuals to psychic regression; the more advanced society is, the less individualized the people are. Freud developed psychoanalysis within a liberal capitalist society, at a time when obsessive and hysterical neurotic individuals were perhaps more frequent, but with the atrophy of consciousness, narcissism gained space, although the previous forms did not disappear. In relation to the fourth result obtained, we may think that not only the practice of bullying can satisfy the psychic desires of its authors, but also its support and observation; moreover, the perpetrator of aggression can sometimes reproduce the violence suffered, as occurs in some social phenomena such as that of hazing, which may indicate that our culture encourages this type of violence, while also contradictorily trying to avoid it.

Thus, bullying is not only a serious phenomenon - and not merely a joke between children that ceases to exist as time goes by - but also seems to be associated with social development. In this way, its existence is in itself an expression of social conflicts that remain and are displaced to the relationships between individuals; thus, instead of considering it only as an individual, inter-individual or institutional problem, one should look for what social changes lead some individuals to react to their frustrations through blind actions against other individuals who did not nothing to them and who did not provoke any affection, causing them to become increasingly psychically regressed, as analyzed by Horkheimer and Adorno (1947/1985).

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5This study was carried out with the support from the National Council for Scientific and Technological Development, (CNPq), Opinion number 306790/2018-1.

6I thank the contribution of the researchers of the Laboratory of Studies on Prejudice of the Institute of Psychology of USP for the collection and analysis of the data of this article

7This scale was built together with Professor Maria de Fátima Severiano.

8We will use the term “trend” when a difference of means is not significant with p=0.01, but is so with p=0.05.

Received: March 15, 2019; Accepted: May 29, 2019

*Corresponding address: jlchna@usp.br

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