A Meta-Analysis of School-Based Bullying Prevention Programs' Effects on Bystander Intervention Behavior

By Polanin, Joshua R.; Espelage, Dorothy L. et al. | School Psychology Review, March 2012 | Go to article overview

A Meta-Analysis of School-Based Bullying Prevention Programs' Effects on Bystander Intervention Behavior


Polanin, Joshua R., Espelage, Dorothy L., Pigott, Therese D., School Psychology Review


Bullying perpetration often occurs when bystanders are present (Hawkins, Pepler, & Craig, 2001; Lagerspetz, Bjorkqvist, Bertz, & King, 1982). In fact, some research has indicated that more than 80% of the time an observer witnesses victimization (O'Connell, Pepler, & Craig, 1999). Despite the presence of witnesses and bystanders, nearly 1 in 3 children report victimization by a bully in the past 2 months (Frey, Hirschstein, Edstrom, & Snell, 2009; Nansel et al., 2001; Wang, Iannotti, & Nansel, 2009). Consequentially, bullying occurs with an audience of members who play multiple roles (Salmavalli, Lagerspetz, Bjorkqvist, Osterman, & Kaukianen, 1996) and often fail to intervene on behalf of the victim with regularity. These bullying incidents have lasting negative effects on the bully, victim, and bystanders (Olweus, 2002; Swearer, Espelage, Villancourt, & Hymel, 2010; Sweeting, Young, West, & Der, 2006; Stevens, Oost, & Bourdeaudhuij, 2004).

The past 20 years have seen a burgeoning of bullying prevention programs (Ferguson, Miguel, Kilburn, & Sanchez, 2007; Ryan & Smith, 2009; Ttofi & Farrington, 2009, 2011). Researchers, school administrators, and teachers have used myriad designs, theories, and techniques in an attempt to mitigate the prevalence of bullying (Astor, Meyer, Benbenishty, Marachi, & Rosemond, 2005). Ttofi and Farrington's (2011) recent large-scale meta-analysis of over 90 studies found that the majority of these programs have been successful at slowing the rate of bullying.

Although successful bullying programs remain important accomplishments, Ttofi and Farrington (2011) found that few programs specifically target the behavior of bystanders (i.e., an individual who witnesses bullying). As such, prevention programs deemphasize a population that constitutes between 60% and 70% of primary or secondary school students (Glew, Fan, Katon, Rivara, & Kerntic, 2005; Rivers, Poteat, Noret, & Ashurst, 2009). This program oversight is unfortunate because observational research has found that when bystanders intervene on behalf of the victim, they successfully abate victimization more than 50% of the time (Craig, Pepler, & Atlas, 2000; O'Connell et al., 1999).

Supported by the knowledge that bystanders can successfully intervene on behalf of the victim, a small amount of literature has focused recently on increasing this behavior. These programs explicitly emphasize the importance of bystander intervention behavior and measure this construct. Given these conditions, the purpose of this meta-analysis is to synthesize school-based bullying prevention programs' effectiveness to change bystander intervention behavior. We also aggregated the program's influence on empathy for the victim as a secondary synthesis because it has received recent investigation (Gini, Albiero, Benelli, & Altoe, 2007). The following summarizes the relevant literature, provides a comprehensive examination of the synthesis process and quantitative analysis outcomes, and elucidates moderator analysis and publication bias results. Suggestions for future research and policy are also provided.

Bullying in the Schools

Definition

Olweus (1973) first described bullying as "mobbing" where a group or individual teases or harasses another individual. As such, early research focused solely on the physical aspects of school environment (e.g., teacher-student ratio), but found little connection to perpetration or victimization (Swearer et al., 2010). Recently, Frey et al. (2009) described bullying as a social construct that disrupts social connections among students. Ross and Horner (2009) summarized the plethora of definitions:

  Common definitions of bullying involve repeated
  acts of aggression, intimidations, or
  coercion against a victim who is weaker in
  terms of physical size, psychological or social
  power, or other factors that result in a
  notable power differential. … 

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