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Understanding the Developmental Decline in Helpful Bystander Responses to Bullying: The Role of Group Processes and Social-Moral Reasoning

Palmer, Sally B. (2015) Understanding the Developmental Decline in Helpful Bystander Responses to Bullying: The Role of Group Processes and Social-Moral Reasoning. Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) thesis, University of Kent,. (KAR id:47971)

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Within this thesis the challenge of reducing bullying among children and adolescents in schools is reviewed (Chapter 2). The focus of this research was to examine the developmental decline in prosocial bystander responses to bullying (when a “bystander” is an individual who witnesses the bullying incident). To do so, a “developmental intergroup approach” (cf. Killen, Mulvey & Hitti, 2013; Rutland, Killen & Abrams, 2010) was applied to the context of bystander intentions. This approach suggests that intergroup factors such as group membership and identification, group norms, intergroup status and social-moral reasoning influence attitudes and behaviours during childhood and adolescence (e.g., Abrams, Rutland & Cameron, 2003; Rutland & Killen, 2011; Chapter 3). The present research examines whether this approach could shed light on why, with age, children become less likely to report helpful bystander intentions when faced with bullying and aggression among peers (e.g., Rigby & Johnson, 2006).

Three studies were conducted, following an experimental questionnaire-based design (e.g., Abrams, Palmer, Rutland, Cameron & Van de Vyver, 2013; Nesdale & Lawson, 2011; Chapter 4). Study 1 (Chapter 5) showed support for examining group membership and group identification, group norms and social-moral reasoning) when understanding the developmental decline in helpful bystander responses. Two hundred and sixty 8-10 year olds and 13-15 year olds read about an incident of intergroup verbal aggression. Adolescent bystander intentions were influenced by norms and perceived severity of the incident. A significant moderated mediation analysis showed that the level of group identification among participants partially mediated the relationship between age and helpful bystander intentions, but only when the aggressor was an outgroup member and the victim was an ingroup member. Moral (e.g., “It’s not right to call them names”) and psychological (e.g., “It’s none of my business) reasoning differed by age and intention to help the victim or not.

In Study 2 (Chapter 6) the role of intergroup bystander status and type of bystander response was manipulated. Two types of bystander norm (attitudinal and behavioural) were measured along with an exploratory examination of perceived leadership. Participants (N=221) read about an incident of verbal aggression where a bystander (who belonged to a high- or low-status group), either helped or walked away from an incident of verbal aggression. Helping bystanders were viewed more positively than those who walked away, but no effect of status on bystander evaluations was observed. However, moral reasoning was prioritised for high-status compared to low-status bystanders, regardless of their bystander behaviour. Additionally, bystander response (but not status) moderated the relationship between the behavioural norm and perceived leadership qualities.

To further examine the role of norms a norm for helping versus not getting involved was manipulated in Study 3 (Chapter 7). Participants (N=230) read about deviant ingroup and outgroup bystanders who observed an incident of intergroup verbal aggression. Group membership was either school group or ethnicity (ingroup British and outgroup Travellers). Not only were participants sensitive to the group membership of the bystander, but they evaluated those who transgressed a helping norm more negatively than those who transgressed a norm not to get involved. Importantly this study also showed, for the first time, that children and adolescents are aware of group-based repercussions (e.g., social exclusion) if they do not behave in line with group norms.

The studies presented within this thesis show strong support for considering group processes when examining the developmental decline in bystander responses to bullying and aggression and developing age-appropriate anti-bullying interventions. Further implications for theory, practitioners, policy and future research are discussed (see Chapter 8).

Item Type: Thesis (Doctor of Philosophy (PhD))
Thesis advisor: Cameron, Lindsey
Thesis advisor: Abrams, Dominic
Uncontrolled keywords: Bystanders; bullying; intergroup name-calling; group processes; social-moral reasoning; childhood; adolescence
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Human and Social Sciences > School of Psychology
Depositing User: Users 1 not found.
Date Deposited: 14 Apr 2015 09:00 UTC
Last Modified: 16 Feb 2021 13:24 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)
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