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The Bystander Effect and Combating Bullying Behaviours

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Bullying behaviours across schools worldwide however, educational psychologists and educational officials have been considering different interventions to reduce bullying and eventually be able to prevent the bullying interaction from occurring. This study proposes an intervention which uses a combination of the intergroup approach and increasing bystander help to assist in the understanding the underlying psychological processes behind bullying and trying to help more bystanders become defenders. To examine this a combination of educational learning, both children and parents, will be used and the findings will be measured using the Bullying Participant Behaviour Questionnaire (BPBQ) and Bystander Intervention Questionnaire.

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Bulling is a common behaviour in schools worldwide and the Crime Survey of England and Wales (CSEW) 2017-2018 found that at the end of the year it was estimated that 17% of 10-15 year olds had been bullied in the last 12 months, 80% of bullying was verbal or ignoring with cyberbullying only at 7%. Additionally, white children reported being bullied more over non-white children (18% compared to 13%) and within the non-white children, black children reported the highest level of reported bullying than other ethnic groups at 16% (2020).

The intergroup approach to bullying considers the type of bullying along with the underlying psychological aspects that cause bullying behaviour (i.e. prejudice). This approach explores the behaviours carried out by one member of a group towards an individual or group of people from an out group (Ojala & Nesdale, 2004). Along with examining the individuals within a group it is essential to consider the role of the bystander and how they can help to decrease these bullying behaviours, especially the “assertive” bystander” or defender (Hawkins, Pepler & Craig, 2001). One form of bullying found in schools is racial bullying whereby individuals or groups are bullied based upon their race, ethnicity, or culture. There are a variety of underlying reasons as to why some people bully others, including racial bullying, such as misinformed/uneducated, family and friend influences, peer pressure, media etc (‘Racism and racial bullying | Childline’, 2020).

The bystander role within the intergroup approach is an important aspect due to their ability to hinder or help in a bullying situation although, this often depends on the type of bystander role they adopt. Twemlow, Fonagy and Sacco (2004) identified five different roles: aggressive (bully), passive (victim), avoidant, abdicating and altruistic. This leads to the bystander effect whereby bystanders are less likely to help someone if there are others around and can be seen in school bullying. Latané and Darley (970) suggest that this is due to a diminish of responsibility where the bystander waits for someone else to help as they believe that the responsibility is shared by everyone and therefore, they are slower to react if at all. Schools in the UK conducted a survey into why bystander children choose not to intervene and found 69% said they didn’t know what to do, 28% said they were afraid they would get bullied, 11% said that nobody else intervened so why should they and more (The Annual Bullying Survey 2018, n.d). This can be observed in schools where bullying occurs as you often experience groups of children gathered around a bullying scenario yet not intervening.

In schools bullying is almost always in the attendance of peer bystanders’ and although children often complain about bullying and how cruel it is many of them still do not intervene to help the victim (Lodge & Frydenberg, 2005). There are a variety of possibilities as to why a children would take on a bystander role and not intervene such as uncertainty, fear, guilt etc. Bystanders are more likely to intervene when the victim is one of their ingroup members (Levine, Cassidy, Brazier & Reicher, 2002) due to intergroup loyalties or because they are a friend (Lodge & Frydenberg, 2005). Additionally, children may not want to go against their groups norms or against the social culture within their schools (Nickerson, Mele & Princiotta, 2008) as this can result in them becoming socially excluded, removed from their group, or even becoming a victim themselves. In their study Nickerson et al., (2008) found that a little over half (52%) of the children reported that they often defend a victim who was being bullied however, these findings are slightly higher than previous studies (Jeffrey, Miller & Linn, 2001) which could be due to the majority of their sample being girls who are more likely to be defender bystanders (Salmivalli, Lagerspetz, Björkqvist, Österman & Kaukiainen, 1998) with future research introducing a larger sample with more boys to increase the findings generalizability.

These studies all concern themselves with traditional bullying and the bystander effect however, it also needs to consider how bystanders can affect cyberbullying in the digital age even though it is still less prevalent (2020). According to the Pew Research Centre, 92% of children go online daily, and 71% have more than one social media account (Lenhart, 2015). In an annual bullying survey of UK school children they reported being bullied across a variety of social medias like Facebook (57%), Instagram (38%), snapchat (32%) and more (The Annual Bullying Survey 2018, n.d). Still, the rate of cyberbullying is lower than traditional bullying, yet cyberbullying can yield more bystanders due to the internet providing some anonymity (Wong-Lo & Bullock, 2014) and the wider reach of the online community. Although, Macaulay, Boulton and Betts (2019) found that there was a larger amount of reported positive bystander responses (PBR) for cyberbullying, with females showing high PBR levels across both platforms. In Finland, the KiVa program works with teachers, parents, students and more via teacher training, specific student lessons, virtual reality simulations etc to acknowledge peers (Salmivalli, Kärnä & Poskiparta, 2011). This has shown significant success across schools in Finland (Saarento & Salmivalli, 2011) with their reduction rates in bullying though in contrast Evans, Fraser & Cotter (2014) found this less successful in a more diverse community. Although the KiVa program has proven success it is a costly program and therefore cannot be afforded to be in place in every school.

In order to reduce bullying behaviour within schools, racial bullying here, a combination of an intergroup approach and improving the bystander relationship. To improve the intergroup relationships it is important to include students, teachers, and parents/carers due to them all having the ability to influence student views and behaviours (‘Racism and racial bullying | Childline’, 2020) due to positive child/parent relationships (Georgiou & Stavrinides, 2013) which can influence their views and opinions. In order to improve students understanding and views on such process triggers as prejudice and stereotypes it is important to educate them both in school and at home to understand different types of people and groups which, in relation to racial bullying, can ultimately reduce bullying as a common cause for racial bullying is misinformation of the target individual/group. Introducing educational learning both in class via role play scenarios, discussions/debates and at home via computer-based learning via videos and online learning that includes parents/carers. In addition, having opportunities for parents/carers though meetings, newsletters, help with school policies etc which a meta-analysis by Ttofi and Farrington (2011) has already found to be significant in reducing bullying.

Additionally, it is just as important to encourage bystanders, passive one, to become defenders or upstanders to help reduce and/or prevent bullying interactions. Teachers should be given the training to be able to not only spot, support and deal with bullies and victims but also with encouraging bystanders and enabling them to have the interpersonal skills they need to become active bystanders or defenders. Introducing peer support and mentoring programs to allow older students to support teachers in teaching these interpersonal skills (Cowie & Hutson, 2005). Helping bystanders to become active/defenders has already been applied sparingly to schools in order to examine whether it has an effect on students to become defenders and intervene however, although this has been minimally used across the boared Thompson and Smith (2012) have found it to have a positive effect in bullying reduction. Therefore, this needs to have more research to provide more evidence, positive or negative, on the effects of upstander training within schools.

It is hypothesised that at the end of the treatment period there will be a significant reduction in bullying interactions however, not a complete cease. Also, it is hypothesised that there will be an increase in the percentage of students who report as being a defender and that the reduction in bullying behaviour is majorly achieved through an increase in defenders due to peer mentorships.

The materials used were the Bullying Participant Behaviour Questionnaire (BPBQ) (Demaray, Summer, Jenkins & Becker, 2016) to measure changes in bullying levels. To measure whether there is an increase in defenders a modified version of the Bystander Intervention in Bullying questionnaire (Nickerson et al., 2011) will be used after the questions of sexual harassment have been removed. These will be issued via the web-based survey software Qualtrics.

Children will complete the BPBQ and Bystander Intervention questionnaire prior to any interventions to understand their current views on bullying and how many currently consider themselves in the bystander role of defender. Children will then participate in educational learning in-class and at home, around prejudice and stereotyping, and peer mentoring along for a period of 6 weeks during the first term at school excluding half term. Then the children will complete the BPBQ and Bystander Intervention questionnaire and the findings will be compared to the beginning of term to understand if any significant changes have occurred post interventions

References

  1. (2020). Retrieved 3 April 2020, from https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/754959/Bullying_in_England_2013-2018.pdf
  2. Bullying at school. (2020). Retrieved 3 April 2020, from https://www.gov.uk/bullying-at-school/reporting-bullying
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  5. Evans, C.B.R., Fraser, M.W., & Cotter, K.L. (2014). The effectiveness of school-based bullying prevention programs: A systematic review. Aggression and Violent Behaviour, 19, 532-544
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