Manchester Metropolitan University's Research Repository

To help or defend? Associations of empathy and social support with bystander response to bullying

Burns, Jennifer (2015) To help or defend? Associations of empathy and social support with bystander response to bullying. University of Strathclyde. (Unpublished)


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Bullying literature holds that bystanders are active contributors to the social event that unfolds, by either facilitating or inhibiting bullying. This study explored associations of individual, interpersonal, and contextual variables with prosocial bystander behaviour. Two hundred and two Scottish school children, aged 9-12 years, completed a questionnaire examining their responses to bullying with particular focus on whether they defended or helped victims of bullying. The questionnaire also included measures of empathic concern, social support from classmates and a close friend, and past experience of victimisation. A multiple regression analysis revealed that empathy was positively associated with both helping and defending victims of bullying. Furthermore, lower social support from classmates was related to helping victims of bullying. The results highlight that interpersonal variables, in addition to individual characteristics, are related to prosocial bystander responses. These results suggest that empathic children who intend to help victims of bullying are not a homogenous group, and the distinction between defending and helping should be adopted in future research. The findings are discussed in relation to programmes focused on increasing bystander intervention in school-based bullying.

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