Psychology Ph.D. Dissertations


The Effects of Experienced Cyber-Aggression on Subsequent Aggressive Behavior among College Students

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)



First Advisor

Eric Dubow (Advisor)

Second Advisor

Anne Gordon (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Carolyn Tompsett (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Loraine Young (Other)


Cyber-aggression has been of increasing interest to psychological and communication researchers over the past decade. Cyber-aggression is defined as “… any behaviour enacted through the use of information and communication technologies that is intended to harm another person(s) that the target person(s) wants to avoid” (Corcoran, 2015; p. 253). Much research has been carried out on the prevalence, predictors, and consequences of cyber-aggression among children and adolescents (e.g., Kowalski, Giumetti, Schroeder, & Lattanner, 2014; Patchin & Hinduja, 2012). Less is known about experiences of cyber-aggression among college students. College students experience important changes in cognition and social setting compared to adolescents, which may result in different expressions of cyber-aggressive behavior. Though prevalence rates of cyber-aggression among college students are estimated to be lower than the adolescent rate, experiencing cyber-victimization is related to important outcomes among college students, including depressive symptoms (Selkie, Kota, Chan, & Moreno, 2015) and increased negative emotions (Kowalski et al., 2014). Despite these important findings, very little work has been done that examines cyber-victimization in an experimental setting among college students. In this study, I carried out an experiment with 141 college students in which participants were randomly assigned to be exposed to higher levels (experimental group) or lower levels (control group) of cyber-aggression and then assessed in terms aggressive behavior, thoughts, and emotions. I assessed the link between exposure to cyber-aggression and aggressive outcomes and examined moderating effects of three social cognitive variables on this relation. Results demonstrated that there were no significant differences between participants exposed to higher levels of cyber-aggression and participants exposed to lower levels of cyber-aggression on measures of aggressive behavior or cognitions, while there were significant differences between the control and experimental groups on a measure of aggressive affect; participants exposed to higher levels of cyber-aggression reported higher levels of aggressive affect. Normative beliefs about cyber-aggression significantly moderated the relation between exposure to cyber-aggression and aggressive behavior. I discuss the significance of these results, strengths and weaknesses of the current experimental method, and outline how the methods of this study could be put to use in future experimental studies of cyber-aggression.