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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Witnessing bullying at school : the influence of bullying and victimization on bystander behaviour Trach, Jessica


Bullying at school is a widespread and persistent problem facing Canadian youth today (Craig & Harel, 2004). In addition to the small but significant minority of students who are involved directly as bullies and victims, more than two thirds of youth are bystanders or witnesses to school-based violence ( Craig & Pepler, 1997; Salmivalli, Lagerspetz, Björkqvist, & Osterman, 1996; Salmivalli, Lappalainen, & Lagerspetz, 1998). Given the high probability that students will at some point in their school career witness bullying, it is important to examine the risks and responsibilities associated with being a bystander. Successful efforts to reduce or eliminate bullying requires knowledge of the types of strategies peers are likely to use to respond to bullying, as well as the students who are most likely to engage in these behaviours. This research investigated how secondary students’ bystander behaviour varied as a function of their age, gender, and concurrent experiences with bullying and/or victimization at school. In a school-based survey examining social experiences at school, Grade 8 to 12 students (N= 50,334, 49% male) who reported witnessing bullying (n=18,839) rated how often they had engaged in different bystander responses. Results of a series of hierarchical regressions indicated that student’s gender and personal experiences with bullying and victimization each accounted for a small but significant proportion of variance for prosocial, aggressive and passive bystander responses; age was only a significant predictor for passive bystander behaviour. These results both confirm and extend the literature on bystanders and bullying, and suggest a number of important areas for future research. Gaining a better understanding of the individual characteristics and contextual factors that encourage or discourage bystander’s defending behaviour can assist educators in developing and delivering effective school-based anti-bullying programs that promote safe and positive bystander intervention.

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