Empathy, Exploitation, and Adolescent Bullying Perpetration: a Longitudinal Social-Ecological Investigation

  • Ann H. Farrell
  • Anthony A. Volk
  • Tracy VaillancourtEmail author


Empathy has been often negatively associated with bullying perpetration, whereas tendencies to be exploitative have been relatively understudied with bullying. Empathic concern and exploitation may also indirectly link distal social-ecological factors to bullying perpetration. Therefore, the associations among personality (i.e., empathic concern, exploitation), self-perceived social-ecological factors (school bonding, social resources), and bullying perpetration were examined in a sample of 531 adolescents across three years of high school in Ontario, Canada (i.e., Grades 9 to 11; mean age 14.96 [SD = 0.37] in Grade 9). As expected, exploitation had concurrent and longitudinal associations with bullying, but unexpectedly empathic concern only had concurrent associations and no longitudinal associations with bullying. Also as expected, exploitation indirectly linked self-perceived social resources to bullying perpetration, but unexpectedly there were no indirect effects with empathic concern. Findings suggest a complex social ecology whereby a lack of empathic concern may remain an important correlate of bullying within each year of high school, whereas exploitative tendencies may be an important predictor of bullying across the high school years, including to strategically leverage self-perceived social resources.


Bullying Adolescents Exploitation Empathic concern Social-ecology 


Funding Information

This research was supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada [grant numbers 833-2004-1019, 435-2016-1251], Ontario Mental Health Foundation [grant number PA-13-303], and Canadian Institutes of Health Research [grant numbers 201009MOP-232,632-CHI-CECA-136591, 201603PJT-365,626-PJT-CECA-136591].

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

Ann H. Farrell, Anthony A. Volk, and Tracy Vaillancourt declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval and Experiment Participants

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants’ parents included in the study and informed assent was obtained from all individual adolescent participants included in the study.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Counselling Psychology, Faculty of EducationUniversity of OttawaOttawaCanada
  2. 2.Department of Child and Youth StudiesBrock UniversitySt. CatharinesCanada
  3. 3.School of Psychology, Faculty of Social SciencesUniversity of OttawaOttawaCanada

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