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Resurrecting the Empathy–Bullying Relationship with a Pro-Bullying Attitudes Mediator: the Lazarus Effect in Mediation Research

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The purpose of this study was to determine whether pro-bullying attitudes are capable of mediating the low empathy–bullying relationship in the absence of a significant unmediated correlation between low empathy and bullying behavior. Using three waves of self-report data from 1371 (677 boys, 694 girls) pre-adolescent/early adolescent members of the Illinois Study of Bullying and Sexual Violence (ISBSV), the mediating effect of pro-bullying attitudes on the low empathy–bullying connection was examined. A path analysis revealed that pro-bullying attitudes successfully mediated the pathway running from low empathy to bully perpetration even though the unmediated relationship between low empathy and bullying perpetration was non-significant. A control or comparison pathway running from bully perpetration to pro-bullying attitudes to low empathy was also tested and found to be non-significant. It would appear that low empathy contributes to bullying perpetration by stimulating pro-bullying attitudes which, in turn, promote bullying perpetration. The theoretical, research, and practical implications of these results are discussed.

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Research for the current study was supported by the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (#1 U01/CE001677) to Dorothy Espelage (PI).

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Correspondence to Glenn D. Walters.

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The authors report no conflicts of interest.

Ethical Approval

This research was approved by the Institutional Review Boards at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Kutztown University.

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Passive informed consent was obtained from parents/guardians and assent was obtained from the children who participated in the study.

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Walters, G.D., Espelage, D.L. Resurrecting the Empathy–Bullying Relationship with a Pro-Bullying Attitudes Mediator: the Lazarus Effect in Mediation Research. J Abnorm Child Psychol 46, 1229–1239 (2018).

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