What Do Bystanders Do When Children Are Being Bullied. . . And Why Do They Do It?
This study of children at a residential school explored how students reacted in bullying situations, and what factors influenced them to join or withdraw from bullying situations rather than defend victims.
Bullying, which affects 20 percent to 40 percent of school-age children, can lead to low self-concept, school avoidance, poor academic performance and peer rejection. This Chapin Hall study of sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-grade students at a residential school aimed to build understanding of children's behavior when they witness bullying and the reasons why children defend victims, join in the bullying or avoid involvement. This study was the first to examine the role of social dilemmas in bullying situations. Social dilemmas, a concept that comes from the group processes perspective of social psychology, arise in groups when each group member's best strategy is to act in his/her own self-interest, regardless of what the other group members do. Each self-interested decision, however, creates a negative outcome for other group members. The goal was to investigate whether students make decisions to not defend victims because they believe that doing so would be futile and/or dangerous. Researchers found that most students joined in bullying or withdrew from bullying situations, rather than defended victims. The evidence also showed that as students' anti-bullying attitudes increased, their pro-bullying behavior decreased, and their defending behavior increased. Additionally, as anti-bullying norms increased within student homes, pro-bullying behavior decreased and defending behavior increased. However, neither attitudes nor group norms predicted withdrawing behavior. Finally, researchers found that when most students in a group agreed that social dilemma conditions existed, students in that group were more likely to support bullying or withdraw from bullying situations and less likely to defend victims.