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What Is The Underlying Cause of Bullying?

As Mothers, We Must Accept Partial Responsibility!

By VNessa ErlenePublished 3 years ago 10 min read
Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

Knowledge Acquisition and the Social Self

Social cognition seeks to explain how people perceive themselves and other people. When one understands that cognition is the process of acquiring knowledge, one can then understand the meaning of social cognition. The most straightforward meaning being the process of acquiring knowledge about one’s social environment through the impressions that are formed based on bias and our subjective impressions.

Humans function differently in an ever social setting based on the expectations of others as well as their expectations (Bargh &Williams, 2006).

Social categorization is a process for maintaining efficiency within a cognitive system. Social categories form during infancy, or at least the foundations are in place at that stage of development. There are negative consequences within in-groups concerning social preferences, empathy, and resource allocation. The most harmful effects include a biased belief system and stereotypes, which can lead to dehumanization (Liberman, Woodward & Kinzler, 2017).

Increases in cognitive distinctiveness result in higher social categorization in part because children have formed social preferences for members of their social group by the age of five.

Children, therefore, look to in-group members when acquiring new information. The environmental structure of this in-group interaction will then influence the child’s self and their environment (Kwiatkowska, 1995). The objective of this discussion is to provide in-depth information relating to the social influences and the relationship these influences have on the development of social cognition.

Self and Social Cognition

When discussing the concept of the self, it is crucial to understand that people explicitly seek out ways to feel good about themselves.

However, the implicit self-appraisals are a significant influence on judgments as well as behaviors. Implicit self-esteem is an unconscious process that the individual is not always aware of but which is assessable through observations. The self will then explicitly and implicitly provide information that will guide self-regulation (Fiske & Taylor, 2013).


When the actions, emotions, and thoughts of an individual are in a controlled state, then the self can be considered regulated (Fiske & Taylor, 2013).

Others can easily observe the individual’s actions; however, their thoughts are not observable, only subjectively compared to the group thoughts. The individual can express their values, and their social roles are ascertainable by observation. The self-concept as it relates to self-regulation would be essential to analyze because of its elusive qualities. Social roles and values are essential to self-concept because of the influence they have on the working self-concept (Fiske& Taylor, 2013).

Individuals who self-monitor utilize a different source of self-regulation by focusing on emotional regulation. Emotional regulation is necessary when an individual cannot separate their affective states from their behaviors. When an individual is less responsive to automatic emotional reactions and more responsive to situational cues, self-monitoring is generally higher (Graziano & Bryant, 1998).

The self-monitoring individual will achieve self-regulation from situational cues more so than from their self-concept. When the self-concept is flawed, the individual will self-monitor by making social comparisons to others. Self-monitoring is useful for understanding how an individual formulates and attains goals by self-regulating (Fiske & Taylor, 2013).

The cause of this usefulness stems from the fact that self-monitoring is related to the social cognition processes of cooperation and competition that are crucial to the pursuit of goals (Graziano & Bryant, 1998). Therefore, the situational cues involved in self-monitoring show themselves to be an adequate substitute for self-concept.


The self-concept consists of the collection of beliefs that an individual will form about themselves (Fiske & Taylor, 2013).

Every individual has a very complex representation of the self. There is the academic self, the self that is someone’s spouse, and the private self, as well as the social self. Situational variability and activated relations influence the self-concept. The relations with the individual’s close others, such as caregivers, siblings, and friends, influence the individual’s emotions and behaviors in social circumstances (Fiske & Taylor, 2013).

A compelling example of this influence is the influence that interparental discord has on the child’s self-concept and the direct correlation this has with bullying behaviors. Some indicators suggest that 75% of elementary through middle school students have experienced some form of bullying (Christie-Mizell, 2003).

Early in the developmental stage, microsocial exchanges between the caregiver and the child will affect the growth of the self-regulatory abilities of the child (Jobe-Shield, Moreland, Hanson & Dumas, 2014).

A child’s self-concept will have a significant correlation to bullying behaviors.

When discussing the self in the previous section, implicit self-esteem proved to be an unconscious process that provided information that would ultimately guide self-regulation. Christie-Mizell (2003) added that this internalization creates the self-concept and ultimately becomes a blueprint for behavior.

Therefore, the negative messages stemming from a home environment that consists of conflict and chaos become the negative information with which a child will construct a negative self-concept. This negative self-concept will then predict a high level of bullying behaviors (Christie-Mizell, 2003).

The Nature of Cognitive Development

Four primary factors influence the cognitive capacity of an individual. These factors are genetic, familial, educational, and non-familial. One must have a balanced view and not debate the importance of either nature or nurture when examining cognitive development (French, 2003).

The self cannot be viewed as an autonomous whole because it changes depending on the context of each social experience (Fiske & Taylor, 2013).

The pre-frontal cortex’s left hemisphere is activated when an individual makes a distinction between the self and what is not-self. This distinction points to the importance of nature in cognitive development.

There are many environmental factors to consider; however, when examining cognitive development. These include parenting styles, nutrition, illness, stability, and even noise levels. Therefore, one should conclude that the focus should become how nature and nurture work together to mold the cognitive processes of every individual (French, 2003).

Social Attention

Human faces are the focus of social attention. The direct gaze from another person’s face will compel an individual’s attention. Cognitive neuroscience claims that a large number of neural systems are in use during facial perception, and the face is a region of distinctive neural responsiveness (Fiske & Taylor, 2013).


Social situations use salience to capture attention.

The human brain automatically gives attention to stimuli that stand out. This attention can occur because of an oddity such as bright colors or simply group or gender differences (Fiske & Taylor, 2013).

Salience occurs when the stimuli stand out against a background that causes them to become visible by a gaze pattern. The salient stimuli will attract a more prolonged gaze. People become salient if they do not fit another’s expectations or if they contradict prior knowledge. Salience is exceptionally relevant in our social interactions.

Relevance is essential because the perceiver’s goals and one’s physical position can determine salience. The consequences of being visually salient can lead to an individual seeming more causally significant and evaluatively extreme.

There are negative consequences associated with being visually salient.

One consequence is a defendant appearing guilty simply because of the position of the interrogation camera. A salient person will also be the influencer in a group; therefore, if the group has undesirable qualities, the salient person will be viewed as a significant influence.

The salient individual will often feel conspicuous or alone, and this can impair cognitive functions. Feeling alone will also disrupt an individual’s ability to self-regulate (Fiske & Taylor, 2013).

Verbal and Non-Verbal Expression

Salience and human face recognition are not the only way information are conveyed within a social environment. Although facial expressions provide an abundant amount of information regarding the emotional and mental states of others. Body language can also convey information, even with the absence of facial expression (Proverbio, Ornaghi, & Gabaro, 2018).

When examining indicators of personality and attitude, one must consider that 90% of our communication is through body language, and 10% is verbal.

Humans rely more on body language to infer personality and attitudes. The inferences can seem doubtful because even though humans are social beings, not everyone is socially eloquent or equip to function well in all social situations. Therefore, body language falls under the influence of factors such as bullying or constant judging (Paras, 2019).

Self and Social Heuristics

Social heuristics has a significant influence on the phenomenon of cooperation. Heuristics are simple rules for behavior that an individual will use in different situations (Van Den Berg & Wenseleers, 2018). Heuristics, by definition, are decision shortcuts, and as such, they can compromise both efficiency and accuracy. Over time these shortcuts can also create biases.

However, all individuals use heuristics daily to simplify complex cognitive processes (Fiske & Taylor, 2013). This simplification makes it more likely that heuristics belong in prosocial behaviors such as uncertainty in cooperative behavior. However, these heuristic strategies will disregard the information that is available concerning the nature of cooperative behavior (Van Den Berg & Wenseleers, 2018).

Simulation heuristics allows an individual to think about events in chronological order, thereby accessing likely consequences (Fiske & Taylor, 2013). The individual can then use intuitive strategies to determine cooperation. Studies have shown that intuitive strategies will increase the chance of cooperation (Rand, Brescoll, Everett, Capraro & Barcelo, 2016).

Individual or idiosyncratic heuristics are factors that affect cooperation. Everyone will enter any situation with their point of reference, as well as their circumstances, and these will influence the individual’s social heuristics (Fiske & Taylor, 2013).

Possible Psychometric Studies

Further research in this area should focus on self-monitoring as an adaptive process to encourage positive emotions in the absence of a positive self-concept (Graziano & Bryant, 1998).

The topic of bullying appears when discussing self-concept and self-regulation, and research has shown that bullying behaviors stem from parental styles and discord within the home environment (Christie-Mizell, 2003).

Parent automaticity also correlates with childhood behaviors both at home and within the school environment.

A longitudinal cross-cultural study that focuses on teaching self-monitoring skills to new parents would contribute to the knowledge of how a parent’s self-monitoring skill could impact the development of a child’s self-concept.

The result could lead to the prevention of bullying behaviors by the parent’s ability to self-monitor and thereby constructing a positive self-concept in children (Christie-Mizell, 2003).

Possible samples for the study would include social services offices such as WIC, substance abuse clinics, and prenatal care facilities. There is a potential to create a favorable environmental structure within the home in-group that will then influence the child’s self and interactions with their environment.


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Christie-Mizell CA. (2003). Bullying: the consequences of interparental discord and child’s self-concept. Family Process, 42(2), 237–251.

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Rand, D. G., Brescoll, V. L., Everett, J. A. C., Capraro, V., & Barcelo, H. (2016). Social heuristics and social roles: Intuition favors altruism for women but not for men. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 145(4), 389–396. https://doi-org.lopes.idm.oclc.org/10.1037/xge0000154.supp (Supplemental)

Van den Berg, P. & Wenseleers, T. (2018). Uncertainty about social interactions leads to the evolution of social heuristics. Nature Communications, 1, 1. https://doi-org.lopes.idm.oclc.org/10.1038/s41467-018-04493-1


About the Creator

VNessa Erlene

A Ph.D. student and Celtic Priestess who is an explorer of knowledge, spirituality, and political incorrectness. Your voice and knowledge is your power!

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