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Investigating the interpersonal and contextual mediators associated with secondary school students’ behaviour as bystanders in bullying interactions, and how these differ according to gender

The peer group who is witness to bullying can play a crucial role in the active reinforcement of this aggression. Many students do not agree with bullying and would like to intervene and help the child being bullied, yet most act in ways which enable and maintain the bullying. A wide range of individual and interpersonal variables have been examined with regard to their influence on bystander behaviour, however there is a paucity of research regarding the relative importance of multiple personal and interpersonal predictor variables on bullying, and participant role behaviour in particular. This Masters research project aimed to identify which of a wide range of variables were most important in determining Year 9 boys’ and girls’ thoughts and actions as a bystander to bullying, including the participant roles they take. These variables included individual factors (self-esteem, problem behaviours, pro-victim attitudes, outcome expectancies, normative beliefs about bullying and loneliness); interpersonal factors (peer support, social competence, and delinquent peer affiliation), and; contextual factors (school bullying ethos, school connectedness, connectedness to teachers, safety at school, classroom management climate, academic achievement and absenteeism).

To achieve these aims, this Masters research project utilised data collected at post-test 2 of the Supportive Schools Project (SSP), a three year randomised cluster comparison trial conducted from 2005 to 2007, and involving 21 Perth metropolitan secondary schools from the Catholic Education sector. At post-test 2, the SSP student cohort was in Term 3 of Year 9. Multivariate analyses used in this project revealed that for both boys and girls, individual variables and then interpersonal variables, rather than school-related contextual variables, were most important in determining bystander behaviour. The most important variables associated with both boys’ and girls’ pro-social bystander thoughts and actions were: having pro-victim attitudes, believing helping behaviour to be normative in their year group, and reporting less bullying-related delinquent peer affiliation.

That individual and peer-group level interpersonal factors (i.e. normative beliefs about helping, having ever watched or joined in bullying to keep or make friends) were especially important in determining the responses both boys and girls have when they see another student being bullied suggests the need to work at the peer-group level to foster group norms that discourage bullying. Additionally, that pro-victim attitudes were an important predictor of bystander thoughts and actions, supports the use of intervention strategies directed towards empathy building and raising awareness of the detrimental effects of bullying among boys and girls. The predictors of boys’ and girls’ bystander thoughts and actions were mostly similar, and so interventions to address these risk and protective factors would likely be of benefit for both genders and largely do not need to be tailored specifically to boys and girls. However, some predictors did differ between boys and girls in terms of their relative importance in determining bystander behaviour. Interestingly, the frequency of reporting the different bystander thoughts and actions differed between boys and girls (e.g. a higher percentage of girls reported trying to help and walking away, and a higher percentage of boys reported joining in and watching the bullying), which would suggest some targeted gender-specific strategies may be useful to enhance the impact of an intervention on boys’ and girls’ bystander behaviour.

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Funding Body


For further information about this project please contact Helen Monks at


Ms Helen Monks


Associate Professor Stacey Waters
Professor Donna Cross

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