New computer game detects classroom bullies

New computer game detects classroom bullies

Scientists have developed a new social computer game that can detect classroom bullies, victims and bystanders and even reveal peer aggression that goes undetected by traditional methods.

The game designed at the University of Illinois allows researchers to study natural interactions between children, collect large amounts of data about those interactions and test theories about youth aggression and victimisation.

The game's developers say it is an improvement over traditional research methods, such as questionnaires, which do not assess interactions between youth in real time.

"What we wanted was to have more real-time information and to include advancements in computer science to process the data and get more insights into it so we could understand the problem of bullying better and create interventions," said Juan F Mancilla-Caceres, who developed the algorithms for the game.

The researchers tested the game with 97 students in six classrooms who were participating in the bullying research.

The students, all fifth-graders, had been surveyed about various types of bullying, fighting, leadership and domineering behaviour, as well as their attitudes and friends' perceived attitudes toward victimising and defending peers.

Based on students' self-reports, each student was labelled a "bully," "non-bully" or "victim" prior to playing the game.

Analyses of the 7,800 messages that the participants exchanged over the chat interface were compared to the survey data, and the researchers found that the game was effective at evaluating player interactions and detecting bullying.

"Bullies played the game very differently than their classmates who were non-bullies or victims," Dorothy Espelage, faculty member at Illinois said.

"Bullies sent more private messages, peeked at the correct answer more often and sent more negative nominations," said Espelage.

The game also revealed bullying behaviour that had eluded detection by traditional research methods, said Mancilla-Caceres, currently an applied researcher with Microsoft Corp.

Participants were asked to nominate classmates that they wanted or did not want as teammates for the game; however, the researchers actually formed the teams and used the nominations to gain insight into each classroom's social networks.

One player nominated three individuals to be his/her teammates, while each of these individuals negatively nominated the first child.

Analyses of the participants' chat messages indicated that the three classmates had formed a clique and were bullying the first child, although the self-reports had not captured that. The research was published in the Journal of School Violence.

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