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Bystander motivation in bullying incidents: To intervene or not to intervene?
Linköping University, Department of Behavioural Sciences and Learning, Education, Teaching and Learning. Linköping University, Faculty of Educational Sciences.ORCID iD: 0000-0001-9233-3862
Georgia State University, USA.
Georgia State University, USA.
Georgia State University, USA.
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2012 (English)In: Western Journal of Emergency Medicine, ISSN 1936-900X, EISSN 1936-9018, Vol. 13, no 3, 247-252 p.Article in journal (Other academic) Published
Abstract [en]


This research sought to extend knowledge about bystanders in bullying situations with a focus on the motivations that lead them to different responses. The 2 primary goals of this study were to investigate the reasons for children's decisions to help or not to help a victim when witnessing bullying, and to generate a grounded theory (or conceptual framework) of bystander motivation in bullying situations.


Thirty students ranging in age from 9 to 15 years (M = 11.9; SD = 1.7) from an elementary and middle school in the southeastern United States participated in this study. Open- ended, semi-structured interviews were used, and sessions ranged from 30 to 45 minutes. We conducted qualitative methodology and analyses to gain an in-depth understanding of children's perspectives and concerns when witnessing bullying.


A key finding was a conceptual framework of bystander motivation to intervene in bullying situations suggesting that deciding whether to help or not help the victim in a bullying situation depends on how bystanders define and evaluate the situation, the social context, and their own agency. Qualitative analysis revealed 5 themes related to bystander motives and included: interpretation of harm in the bullying situation, emotional reactions, social evaluating, moral evaluating, and intervention self-efficacy.


Given the themes that emerged surrounding bystanders' motives to intervene or abstain from intervening, respondents reported 3 key elements that need to be confirmed in future research and that may have implications for future work on bullying prevention. These included: first, the potential importance of clear communication to children that adults expect bystanders to intervene when witnessing bullying; second, the potential of direct education about how bystanders can intervene to increase children's self-efficacy as defenders of those who are victims of bullying; and third, the assumption that it may be effective to encourage children's belief that bullying is morally wrong.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
eScholarship, 2012. Vol. 13, no 3, 247-252 p.
Keyword [en]
bullying, bystander, moral
Keyword [sv]
mobbning, åskådare, vittne, moral
National Category
Pedagogy Psychology (excluding Applied Psychology)
URN: urn:nbn:se:liu:diva-81070DOI: 10.5811/westjem.2012.3.11792OAI: diva2:550129
Available from: 2012-09-06 Created: 2012-09-06 Last updated: 2016-05-04

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Thornberg, RobertJungert, Tomas
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