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Vol.9(18), pp.

660-665, 23 September, 2014

DOI: 10.5897/ERR2014.1761
Article Number: C9914E047245 Educational Research and Reviews
ISSN 1990-3839
Copyright 2014
Author(s) retain the copyright of this article


Cyberbullying from the perspective of choice theory

Tanrikulu, Takn
Department of Psychological Counseling and Guidance, Fatih University, stanbul, Turkey.
Received 21 February, 2014; Accepted 18 August, 2014

This study aims to propose a theoretical explanation for the cyberbullying problem, which is the use of
cyber communication tools to endanger other people. In recent years, the cyberbullying problem, which
is widespread especially among the young, has been the subject of scientific studies. These studies
have mostly focused on the issues of causes and results of cyberbullying, and variables related to it.
The research has shown that the ones showing cyberbullying behaviors or the ones trying to prevent
these behaviors are in need of studies aiming to minimize these kinds of behaviors. It has been
observed that theoretical explanations directed towards the minimization of this behavior and towards
making contributions to the studies aiming to prevent cyberbullying are required. In this study,
cyberbullying is discussed within the framework of William Glassers choice theory. In the study, first,
information about cyberbullying is presented, and then, general views of choice theory related to the
nature of humans are clarified. Lastly, assessments about cyberbullying are stated with regard to the
concepts in choice theory, such as basic needs, Quality World, successful and unsuccessful identity,
choice and responsibility.

Key words: cyberbullying, choice theory, realty therapy.


Cyberbullying insulting and trying to embarrass, and it can be caused

by an individual as well as by a group (Anderson, 2010).
According to Arcak (2011), cyberbullying is all of the
behaviors which aim against an individual or a group, a
specific individual or legal personality and endanger them Its difference from traditional bullying
technically or in a relational way. Cyberbullying is des-
cribed, in other terms, as the intentional and repetitious Cyberbullying is similar to traditional bullying in terms of
behaviors which include the use of information and being unbalanced force, including aggressiveness
communication technologies, such as e-mail, cell phone, (Dooley et al., 2009; Grigg, 2010) and supporting each
beeper, short message service and web sites, by a group other (Jose et al., 2011). However, cyberbullying differs
or an individual to endanger others and which support from traditional bullying with regard to use of commu-
hostile attitudes (Agatston et al., 2007; Ang and Goh, nication technologies, cyberbullying agents possibility of
2010; Patchin and Hinduja, 2006; Totan, 2007; Wright et hiding their identities, the possibility of a situation
al., 2009). It covers aims, such as soliciting, humiliating or stemming from cyberbullying being heard by a

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Tanrikulu 661

broad range of people because of virtual opportunities, Choice Theory

and the use of sexual bullying more easily and more
often. Moreover, while the victim in traditional bullying Glasser, the father of choice theory, explained his theory
has the opportunity to escape the effects of bullying by in rebuttal to the view that people cannot be responsible
leaving the place, for the victims of cyberbullying, it is for their behaviors, including psychological problems
difficult to find a place to escape because the contents (Kaner, 1993). Glasser, objecting to the view that the
are known by many people and kept in a place open to reasons behind psychological problems are some mental
be seen (Ayas and Horzum, 2010). disorders, stated in his theory that the real source of
problems is individuals' own choice (Glasser, 2000;
Haight and Shaughnessy, 2003) and that our behaviors
Its effects on victims are directed by internal factors, which he called a Quality
World, not by external factors. His view is different from
According to different studies, at least 20% of adole- other counseling theories, particularly behaviorist theories
scents are victims of cyberbullying in USA (Li, 2007; (Cameron, 2009).
Vandebosch and Van Cleemput, 2009). Depression, When people experience a problem with someone else,
social isolation and self-harming behaviors are the most they want to change the other by controlling the other's
common problems which the victims of cyberbullying behaviors rather than changing and controlling their own.
experience (Mason, 2008; Wong-Lo et al., 2011). Other This leads to communication being damaged. However,
consequences, such as inability to perceive, emotional or according to the choice theory, an individual has the
friendship problems, insomnia, headaches, repetitive competence to control only his own behaviors (Glasser,
stomach aches, feeling insecure in school, etc., can also 1997; zmen, 2006).
occur (Sourander et al., 2010). Moreover, the studies According to Glasser, there are five basic motives origi-
have shown that the victims have low self-confidence and nating from humans' genetic endowment (Glasser, 1985).
self-respect (Didden et al., 2009; Mason, 2008; Patchin These are (1) surviving and reproducing, (2) belonging
and Hinduja, 2010a). In the study by Navarro et al. (2011) (to love, to be loved and to be of value), (3) acquiring
on 10-12 year-old students, it was observed that the power, (4) being free and (5) having fun.
victims of cyberbullying have social anxiety and espe- Quality World and picture album are other important
cially fear of being negatively assessed. Female victims concepts in choice theory. Though the needs of all
of cyberbullying are more likely to have emotional humans are similar, their wills as to how to meet these
symptoms than male victims. However, females tend to needs are different because their lives are not the same.
ask for help more than males (Dooley et al., Cross and The solutions that we find to meet our requirements form
Spiel, 2010). the personal Quality World. One's Quality World consists
In literature review on cyber-bullying, it can be seen of perceptions and pictures related to subjects,
that most of the studies are on causes, results and phenomena and persons that one wants to exist in the
related variables of cyber-bullying (Gradinger et al., 2010; real world. We build our whole life to reach the images in
Kiriakidis and Kavoura, 2010; Menesini and Nocentini, this world. Therefore, our Quality World is the most
2009; Vandebosch and Van Cleemput, 2008). However, important part of our whole life (Glasser, 1998a).
considering the prevalence of the problem of cyber- According to choice theory, a behavior includes ele-
bullying, it can be understood that there is a need of ments of doing, thinking, feeling and physiology. Glasser
studies aimed at not only preventing cyberbullying in calls this total behavior (Glasser, 1998b; Zeeman, 2006).
those with the behavior but also reducing this behavior. The element of doing in our total behavior is always
The studies aimed at preventing cyber-bullying are impor- under our control. Therefore, when this element changes,
tant in terms of prevention of new victims exposed to other elements, namely thinking, feeling and physiology
bullying. The theoretical explanations on this problem are will be under our control (Glasser, 1998b).
needed for intervention studies. Theoretical approaches Choice theory focuses on the concept of successful
explaining the cyber bullying behaviors will contribute to and unsuccessful identity. Glasser (1998b) claims that
solutions on subjects such as; the reasons behind such the degree of satisfying the requirements of belonging,
behaviors and the points to focus on for intervention loving and feeling secure has an important role in the
programs. Studies conducted in order to explain cyber- formation of successful identity. A feeling of responsibility
bullying under the theoretical framework can be said to is the most important indicator of having a successful
be beneficial for the intervention models and programs to identity. Successful identity brings responsibility with it. If
be developed. From this perspective, which also a person has a successful identity, he can acknowledge
constitutes the purpose of this study, cyber-bullying is the consequences of his behaviors, accept realities as
going to be analyzed within the framework of the choice they are and behave accordingly. People who have a
theory. In this respect, first of all, the general framework successful identity can satisfy their needs of being of
of choice theory will be explained and then there will be value, belonging, loving and being loved (Palanc, 2004).
analyses in order to explain the cyber bullying behaviors. Choice theory highlights responsibility. Responsible
662 Educ. Res. Rev.

people are aware of what they want and what they can Moreover, other studies have shown that behaviors of
achieve and they are independent people who are active anger, aggressiveness, etc. are related to cyberbullying
in achieving these. From this perspective, responsible (Schultze-Krumbholz and Scheithauer, 2009). People
people are the people who can control their lives and displaying behaviors of anger and aggres-siveness
behave accordingly (Palanc, 2004). display cyberbullying behaviors, too (Patchin and
Cyberbullying behaviors are discussed within the Hinduja, 2010b). Vandebosch and Cleembut (2008) state
framework of choice theory in this article. There are un- that victims of traditional bullying try to balance their
doubtedly great many theories explaining the behaviors situation by means of the power they acquire from their
and needs of human beings. For example, while self- knowledge on the internet, computer and other cyber
determination theory approaches the human needs as communication tools. In the same way, it is stated that
competence, autonomy and relationality (Deci and Ryan, the ones regarding themselves as inadequate in terms of
2000), according to Maslow the human needs are ordered physical power and age try to balance the situation with
as a hierarchy from physiological needs to the self- cyberbullying behaviors. In this sense, when the
realization need. These theories provide significant infor- argument is discussed from the point of the five basic
mation to explain the needs and behaviors of human. The needs in choice theory, it is possible to state that
reason why cyber-bullying is analyzed within the pers- cyberbullying behaviors aim to satisfy the needs of
pective of choice theory in this analysis is that reality entertainment and power.
therapy (Corey, 2009) developed out of choice theory Glasser (1998a) states that students having difficulty in
enables the analyses about cyber-bullying behaviors be meeting their needs are generally the ones who ex-
used for intervention program. perience relationship problems in puberty. When the gap
Another reason why cyber-bullying behaviors are between what a person wants and what he has is high,
analyzed within the framework of choice theory in this he feels anger and rage. These feelings lead the adole-
article is that cyber-bullying behaviors are the ones widely scent to display rebellion and problematic behaviors.
observed in schools and mostly during adolescence According to Glasser (1998b), another reason for the
(NCES, 2011). William Glasser, who generated choice problems in relationships is being restrained and the
theory and reality therapy, is also a school psychologist inability to present individual potential. If their abilities are
who has studied problems encountered in schools. The not believed in and they are not given the chance to cope
theory and therapy put forward by Glasser were used as with the obstacles they encounter, adolescents ex-
a model in order to deal with the problems encountered in perience discipline problems. In this sense, it can be
schools (Walter et al., 2008). In this regard, the choice stated that cyberbullying, which can be regarded as a
theory and reality therapy approach can be used in the discipline problem in schools, is related to a persons
studies carried out by school counselors in order to being unsuccessful and a feeling of being restrained in
prevent cyber bullying behaviors. This analysis discussing satisfying their basic needs.
cyber-bullying from the perspective of choice theory is Choice theory claims that most people have similar
thought to be useful for such studies. underlying problems. This problem is generally their
inability to have a successful and satisfying relationship
with one of the people important in their life or to attach
Cyberbullying and choice theory themselves to other people (Glasser, 2000). People who
are alone and have a low level of acceptability by society
In this part, cyber bullying behaviors will be associated have a high rate of cyberbullying behaviors (Schoffstall
with basic premises of choice theory. In this sense, and Cohen, 2011). It has been seen that the ability to
cyberbullying behaviors will be evaluated with regard to establish social relationships and the competence to
concepts, which choice theory used to explain human struggle with the problems experienced in social relations
behaviors (Glasser, 1998b), such as basic needs, quality predict cyberbullying negatively (Schoffstall and Cohen,
world, total behavior and successful-unsuccessful identity. 2011; Sourander et al., 2010). Poor parent relations also
predict cyberbullying (Mason, 2008). In this sense, from
the point of choice theory, cyberbullying behaviors can be
Basic needs and cyberbullying explained by a persons inability to develop healthy and
satisfying relationships. When the findings of this study
According to choice theory, all peoples behaviors aim to are discussed from the point of choice theory, it can be
meet five basic needs. In this sense, cyberbullying aims stated that one of the reasons behind cyberbullying
to satisfy one or some of these basic needs. In a study by behaviors is the fact that the needs of belonging and
Raskauskas and Stoltz (2007), students doing cyber- establishing relationships are not met adequately and
bullying displayed this behavior for these aims with the properly.
following percentages: 38% to have fun, 25% to take
revenge, and 6% because of their bad mood due to the Quality World and Cyberbullying
situation they were in. The rest could not answer
why they behaved in this way. According to Glasser, the things that a person wants to
Tanrikulu 663

do or reach to meet his needs form the picture album. cyberbullying behaviors is to get rid of boredom (Yaman
When the picture album/Quality World and real world are and Peker, 2012). When these factors related to cyber-
different from each other, this means that there is a bullying are taken as a total behavior they can be
problem for that person and this difference takes us to regarded as feeling element of the total behavior.
behavior. According to this, behavior is the effort to In a study in which the relationship between cyber-
remove the difference between what he lives in (real bullying and cognitive distortions was investigated (etin
world) and what he wants to live (picture album). Abnor- et al., 2011), it was found that cyberbullying behaviors
mal behaviors stem from this difference, too (Corey, were predicted by unrealistic expectations, mind reading
2009). In this sense, cyberbullying behaviors can be and approach avoidance, which are types of cognitive
regarded as abnormal behaviors which stem from a distortion. A relationship between cyberbullying and
persons inability to realistically satisfy his needs for perceptual problems (Dilma and Aydoan, 2010) was
power and entertainment. found. Besides, positive relationship between cyber-
Picture album starts to take shape after birth and is bullying and invisibility delusion (Mason, 2008) and low
rearranged throughout life. Beginning from our birth, our perception of self-esteem (Erolu, 2011) was found.
experiences teach us solutions as to how to satisfy our When cyberbullying is considered as a total behavior,
needs and present solutions to satisfy our needs when these factors, which are related to cyberbullying, can be
we want. Therefore, parent relationships and experiences regarded as thinking element of the total behavior.
beginning from childhood are important in the formation It was found that people who cyberbully have health
of picture album (Glasser, 1998b). problems (Kowalski and Limber, 2013) and there is a
In studies discussing the relationship between cyber- positive relationship between cyberbullying and somatic-
bullying behaviors and parent attitudes, it is been zation (Arcak, 2009). When cyberbullying is considered
observed that authoritative and oppressive attitudes of as a total behavior, these factors related to cyberbullying
parents predict cyberbullying behaviors at maximum level can be regarded as physiology element of the total
(Dilma and Aydogan, 2010). When we consider that the behavior.
ones growing up in an authoritative and suppressive
atmosphere will have experiences of violence and
oppression, the pictures in their picture album, especially Successful-unsuccessful identity and cyberbullying
the ones of satisfying the need for power are expected to
include solutions involving aggressiveness. It is been The ones displaying cyberbullying behaviors state that
found by some researchers that behaviors such as anger they display these kinds of behaviors with their friends in
and aggressiveness are related to cyberbullying order to maintain friendship relations (Yaman and Peker
(Schultze-Krumbholz and Scheithauer, 2009). Individuals 2012). The ones who cannot be independent in their
displaying behaviors of anger and aggressiveness display relationships and have a high sense of ego display
cyberbullying behaviors, too (Patchin and Hinduja, cyberbullying behaviors more (etin et al., 2012). A study
2010b). In this sense, it can be said that pictures aiming by Eroglu (2011) showed that there is a negative
to satisfy the need for power in the albums of the ones relationship between cyberbullying and internal values. In
causing cyberbullying consist of pictures which involve addition, people with low self-respect display cyber-
cyberbullying behaviors. bullying behaviors more (Schoffstall and Cohen, 2011).
These features related to cyberbullying behaviors involve
unsuccessful identity, an important concept of choice
Total Behavior and Cyberbullying theory. Unsuccessful identity involves a persons feeling
of worthlessness and low self-confidence. This charac-
According to choice theory, a behavior is total. A be- teristic is the reason behind the problems in his social
havior, in addition to activity of doing, consists of thinking, relations (Palanc, 2004).
feeling and physiology, which makes it total (Glasser, Choice theory focuses on the concept of successful
1998b; Zeeman 2006). In this sense, cyberbullying beha- and unsuccessful identity (Glasser, 1998b). In the case of
viors are total behaviors, too. The doing element of this unsuccessful identity, the person tends to perceive the
behavior is the persons actions that he does to another reality as he wants to, distorts or rejects it (Palanc, 2004).
person using cyber communication technology in order to People who cyberbully have also been observed to have
do harm. Within the scope of choice theory, elements of perceptional problems (Dilma and Aydoan, 2010) and
thinking, feeling and physiology in a cyberbullying cognitive distortions (etin et al., 2011).
behavior can be explained as follows. Unsuccessful identity is the person who cannot take on
It has been found that people displaying cyberbullying the responsibilities of his behaviors, and so, who fails to
behaviors do not feel safe (Sourander et al., 2010); they satisfy his needs of self-worth, belonging, loving and
feel alone (Schoffstall and Cohen, 2011), have feelings of being loved. Therefore, people who have unsuccessful
revenge (Knig et al., 2010; Raskauskas and Stoltz, identity use ineffective methods to meet their needs
2007) and are hostile (Arcak, 2009) feelings. Besides, (Corey, 2008). People who cyberbully have been ob-
these people stated that a reason behind their served to avoid taking responsibility (elik et al., 2012;
664 Educ. Res. Rev.

Dilma and Aydoan, 2010), to have low self-esteem psychopathological explanations as well (Cameron,
(Patchin and Hinduja, 2010a) and to experience problems 2009). Moreover, cyber-bullying behaviors were stated to
making friends and being accepted (Aoyama et al., 2011; be predicted by some psychiatric symptoms (Arcak,
Schoffstall and Cohen, 2011). It is stated that there is a 2009). Another limitation of choice theory and reality
negative relation between responsibility and cyberbullying therapy on cyber-bullying behaviors is about not giving
(elik et al., 2012) According to Glasser, behavioral importance to the effects of past and focusing on present
problems are used in order not to accept realities and in relation to the source of behaviors (Corey, 2009).
responsibilities that do not satisfy needs. When a person Studies show that those with cyber-bullying behaviors
accepts realities and his responsibilities, he starts to were exposed to cyber or traditional bullying in their past
display adequate and proper behaviors to satisfy his (Knig et al., 2010). In addition, another finding of studies
needs (Kaner, 1993). In this sense, one of the reasons is that cyber-bullying and parental attitudes during child-
for cyberbullying is the individuals inadequacy to take hood are related (Dilma and Aydogan, 2010). Another
responsibilities. In this sense, it can be stated that limitation of the theory used in this analysis is related to
characteristics of unsuccessful identity can be observed its rejection of unconscious processes (Corey, 2009). In
in people who cyberbully. this case, the possible unconscious causes of the beha-
Forcing the person to withdraw from social contexts vior cannot be explained with those who have healthy
and weakening his initiative power for change are other relationships, whose basic needs are met adequately and
characteristics of unsuccessful identity (Palanc, 2014). who do not have any observable reason leading to cyber-
People who are alone and who have low levels of self- bullying behaviors.
esteem, peer optimism, social acceptance and the ability
to make friends have been observed to have high levels
of cyberbullying behaviors (Schoffstall and Cohen, 2011). Conflict of Interests
Besides, a relationship between being open to change
and cyberbullying was found, too (elik et al., 2012). The author have not declared any conflict of interests.
Findings of this study, which are related to unsuccessful
identity, indicate that people who cyberbully have charac-
teristics of unsuccessful identity.
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