Date of Award

Winter 12-18-2015

Level of Access

Open-Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Psychology

Advisor

Cynthia A. Erdley

Second Committee Member

Douglas W. Nangle

Third Committee Member

Shannon McCoy

Additional Committee Members

Jordan LaBouff

Elizabeth Allan

Abstract

Cybervictimization is related to negative psychological adjustment (e.g., Tokunaga, 2010); however, not all cybervictims report negative outcomes, and it is not clear what factors may influence vulnerability. One possibility is that cybervictims’ attributions regarding technology-based communication impact their emotional adjustment. Those who make hostile intent attributions in ambiguous situations are more likely to experience negative outcomes (e.g., Crick & Dodge, 1994), and the inherent ambiguity of electronic communication may be particularly susceptible to misinterpretation. In addition, how individuals respond to cyber experiences may serve to either protect or damage their emotional well-being. Furthermore, those who are high in rejection sensitivity (Feldman & Downey, 1994) may be especially likely to perceive ambiguous electronic communications negatively. Also, friendship quality may buffer negative outcomes for those that are cybervictimized (Parker & Asher, 1993). This study examined whether college students’ level of rejection sensitivity and friendship quality, as well as attributions and behavioral responses, help explain the relation between cybervictimization experiences and emotional adjustment.

Participants included 454 undergraduates (235 females) ages 18-24 years (M = 18.79) who completed an online survey assessing cybervictimization, cognitive attributions and responses to ambiguous cyber situations, depression, rejection sensitivity, friendship quality, social anxiety, loneliness, self-perception, and peer victimization.

Results indicated that cybervictimization was associated with increased social anxiety and loneliness and decreased self-worth, but not with depressive symptoms. Moderated mediation results indicated that rejection sensitive college students who experience low levels of cybervictimization and blame ambiguous peer provocation on their own inability to be socially effective are at increased risk for experiencing depressive symptoms, especially if they are female. It was hypothesized that rumination would further explain increased depressive symptoms but this assertion was not supported. It was also believed that friendship quality would mitigate poor adjustment for those who are cybervictimized. Interestingly, this was true only for those who experienced greater cybervictimization and who blamed the ambiguous peer provocation on something they could not change about themselves. Findings highlight the importance of investigating the role of cognitive attributions in the development of negative adjustment outcomes for those who experience cybervictimization.