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The Learning Conference 2003

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Presentation Details


Peer Group Influence on the Willingness to Intervene in Bullying Episodes

Dr Dorothy L. Espelage, Sarah Mebane.

Bullying among early adolescents can have an adverse impact on
learning for all of those involved, including victims, bullies,
and bystanders. Therefore, prevention and intervention programs are being implemented internationally to address this behavior.
A key finding across numerous studies is the importance of including bystanders in the interventions. More specifically, recent research suggests that engaging bystanders in creating
a more positive school climate by intervening might be an important direction of prevention efforts. The current study examined whether this willingness to intervene was influenced by the attitudes toward bullying, empathy, and the willingness to intervene within one's primary friendship network. Participants were
565 students (6th-8th graders) from a middle school in a small US midwestern town. Racial composition of the sample was 94.5% White., 2.3% Biracial, .5% Back, .7% Hispanic, and .5% Asian. Students completed a 45-minute survey in classrooms during Spring 2002.
The survey included self-report scales of bullying, willingness to intervene, and peer nomination tasks to identify friendship networks and bullies.
Social network analysis was used to identify grade-specific networks and hierarchical linear modeling (HLM) was used to evaluate both individual and peer-level influences on the willingness to intervene in bullying episodes. HLM results indicated that for males the peer-level willingness to intervene variable was predictive of individual willingness, but the level of empathy within the friendship group was not predictive of willingness to intervene. For females, peer-level empathy and willingness to intervene was predictive of an individual's willingness to step in and support a victim of bullying. Results indicate that peers need to be considered as an influential factor of bystanders' willingness to stop bullying during early adolescence.


Dr Dorothy L. Espelage  (United States)
Assistant Professor
Counseling Psychology; Educational Psychology Dept.
University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

Dorothy L. Espelage, Ph.D.,
is an Assistant Professor of
Counseling Psychology in the
Department of Educational
Psychology at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. She earned her Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from Indiana University in 1997.

She has conducted research on bullying for the last seven years.
As a result, she has presented numerous times at American conferences and has published various papers on bullying during early adolescence.

Her research focuses on translating empirical findings into prevention and intervention programming.

Sarah Mebane

  • Bullying during early adolescence
  • Bystanders to bullying
  • Empathy

(30 min Conference Paper, English)