Cyber-bullying: An exploration of bystander behavior and motivation


While previous research has examined mainly self-reported bystander behavior during cyber-bullying, the current study explored if and how bystanders responded when presented with a cyber-bullying simulation. We hypothesized that individuals high in empathy would supportively intervene (defend the victim) most frequently. College age participants (M = 20.34, SD = 1.26, range 18-27; N = 149), viewed a simulated Facebook conversation in which negative comments were directed towards another student and were provided open-ended opportunities to be involved in the Facebook conversation (i.e., “comment” to the other fictitious characters) and explain their reasoning for their behavior (“motivators”) at two time points in the conversation (Time 1 and Time 2). Using a deductive-inductive process, we categorized participants’ comments and motivators, the frequency of these responses, and their reasons for them. While the majority of participants (91%) asserted that cyber-bullying occurred in the conversation, most participants did not comment (Time 1: 69%, Time 2: 52%). Among those who commented, the most frequently cited motivators were either to defend the victim or mediate the situation. Consistent with our hypothesis, individuals who identified with the victim had higher empathy scores than those who identified with the bullies, although this was true only for the second part of the conversation (Time 2). Empathy scores did not differ by type of response at either time period. Future studies could utilize the categories and motivators established in this study as a framework for more extensive quantitative research to more comprehensively understand the underlying reasons for low intervention rates in cyber-bullying.

Cyber-bullying; bystander; intervention; motivation
Author biographies

Emily Shultz

Author photo Emily Shultz, B.S., is a recent graduate of Xavier University where she has conducted psychological research on topics including emotional intelligence, sports fan behavior, and social networking. She also volunteered in the Adherence Center at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. Currently, she is a research assistant in the Center for Biobehavioral Health at Nationwide Children’s Hospital where she assists with studies involving pediatric cancer and survivorship.

Rebecca Heilman

Author photo Rebecca Heilman, B.S., is currently pursuing her Master of Arts with a concentration in Social Psychology and Evaluation at Claremont Graduate University. She recently graduated from Xavier University with her Bachelor of Science in Psychology. Her research focuses on morality, group interaction, human behavior, and motivations.

Kathleen J. Hart

Author photo Kathleen J. Hart, PhD, ABBP is a Board Certified Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychologist and a Professor in the Department of Psychology, Xavier University, Cincinnati, OH. She has published in the areas of child and adolescent adjustment and legal issues of juvenile offenders.

Allen, K. P. (2012). Off the radar and ubiquitous: text messaging and its relationship to ‘drama’ and cyberbullying in an affluent, academically rigorous US high school. Journal of Youth Studies, 15, 99-117.

Auerbach, C. F., & Silverstein, L. B. (2003). An introduction to coding and analysis: Qualitative data. New York City: New York University Press.

Barlinska, J., Szuster, A., & Winiewski, M. (2013). Cyberbullying among adolescent bystanders: Role of the communication medium, form of violence, and empathy. Journal of Community and Applied Social Psychology, 23, 37-51.

Bercovici, J. (2013, October 30). Facebook admits its seen a drop in usage among teens. Forbes. Retrieved from /10/30/facebook-admits-its-seen-a-drop-in-usage-among teens/?&_suid=139519519461508640762534923851

Davis, M. H. (1980). A multidimensional approach to individual differences in empathy. JSAS Catalog of Selected Documents in Psychology, 10, 85.

Davis, M. H. (1983). Measuring individual differences in empathy: Evidence for a multidimensional approach. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 44, 113-126.

Desmet, A., Bastiaensens, S., Van Cleemput, K., Poels, K., Vandebosch, H., & De Bourdeaudhuij, I. (2012). Mobilizing bystanders of cyber-bullying: An exploratory study into behavioural determinants of defending the victim. Annual Review of Cybertherapy and Telemedicine , 58-63.

Freis, S. D., & Gurung, R. A. (2013). A Facebook analysis of helping behavior in online bullying. Psychology of Popular Media Culture, 2, 11-19.

Gini, G., Albiero, P., Benelli, B., & Altoe, G. (2008). Determinants of adolescents’ active defending and passive bystanding behavior in bullying. Journal of Adolescence, 31, 93-105.

Hawkins, D., Pepler, D. J., & Craig, W. M. (2001). Naturalistic observations of peer interventions in bullying. Social Development, 10, 512-527.

Hazler, R. J. (1996). Breaking the cycle of violence: Interventions for bullying and victimization. Taylor & Francis.

Hinduja, S., & Patchin, W. (2012). School climate 2.0: Reducing teen technology misuse by reshaping the environment. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Hinduja, S., & Patchin, J. (2013). Social influences on cyberbullying behaviors among middle and high school students. Journal of Youth & Adolescence, 42, 711-722.

Kalpidou, M., Costin, D., & Morris, J. (2011). The relationship between Facebook and the well-being of undergraduate college students. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 14, 183-189.

Li, Q. (2010). Cyberbullying in high school: A study of students’ behaviors and beliefs about this new phenomenon. Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment, and Trauma, 19, 372-392.

Machackova, H., Dedkova, L., Sevcikova, A., & Cerna, A. (2013). Bystanders’ support of cyberbullied schoolmates. Journal of Community and Applied Social Psychology, 23, 25-36.

Menesini, E., Nocentini, A., Palladino, B., Frisen, A., Berne, S., Ortega-Ruiz, R., … & Smith, P. K. (2012). Cyberbullying definition among adolescents: A comparison across six European countries. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 15, 455-463. 10.1089/cyber.2012.0040

Pempek, T. A., Yermolayeva, Y. A., & Calvert, S. L. (2009). College students' social networking experiences on Facebook. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 30, 227-238.

Polyhonen, V., Juvonen, J., & Salmivalli, C. (2010). What does it take to stand up for the victim of bullying? Merrill-Palmer Quarterly, 56, 142-163.

Schenk, A. M., & Fremouw, W. J. (2012). Prevalence, psychological impact, and coping of cyberbully victims among college students. Journal of School Violence, 11, 21-37.

Thornberg, R., Tenenbaum, L., Varjas, J., Meyers, K., Jungert, T., & Vanegas, G. (2012). Bystander motivation in bullying incidents: To intervene or not to intervene. Western Journal of Emergency Medicine, 13, 247-252.

Tokunaga, R. S. (2010). Following you home from school: A critical review and synthesis of research on cyberbullying victimization. Computers in Human Behavior, 26, 277-287.

Wang, C. C., & Wang, C. H. (2008). Helping others in online games: Prosocial behavior in cyberspace. CyberPsychology & Behavior, 11, 344-346.

Wright, M. F., & Li, Y. (2011). The associations between young adults' face-to-face prosocial behaviors and their online prosocial behaviors. Computers in Human Behavior, 27, 1959-1962.





HTML views