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Scand J Psychol. 2016 Apr;57(2):169-76. doi: 10.1111/sjop.12277.

Bystanders' responses to offline bullying and cyberbullying: The role of empathy and normative beliefs about aggression.

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Faculty of Social Studies, Masaryk University, Brno, Czech Republic.
Institute of Education, Department of Educational Psychology, Technische Universität Berlin, Germany.


Cyberbullying often takes place with the virtual presence or knowledge of bystanders. While we have some evidence about the determinants of bystanders' responses to offline bullying, we lack empirical studies concerning the variables that influence bystanders' responses to cyberbullying. The current study examines bystanders' responses to offline bullying and cyberbullying incidents. Two types of responses were captured: support toward the victims and the reinforcement of bullies' actions. Using data from 321 German adolescents (ages 12-18; M = 14.99; 44% girls), the association between bystanders' responses and normative beliefs about verbal aggression and cyberaggression, and affective and cognitive empathy, were tested in a path model. Both types of normative beliefs positively predicted the reinforcement of bullies, and normative belief about verbal aggression also predicted support for the victims of offline bullying. Both types of empathy predicted support in offline bullying, but only affective empathy predicted support in cyberbullying. There was no link between affective or cognitive empathy to the reinforcement of bullies. Moreover, bystanders' tendencies to respond supportively to the victim or to reinforce the bully were rather consistent in both cyber- and offline bullying, but there was no link between support and reinforcement. The findings are discussed with regard to implications for prevention and intervention efforts.


Offline bullying; bystanders; cyberbullying; empathy; normative beliefs about aggression

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