Written by Bishop Noble
Bullying is an aspect of growing up that many individuals either experience themselves or witness at some point in time. Typically, the victim is left to fend off the bully, with no help from other individuals. According to Amelia Kohm (2015), witnesses to bullying only defend the victims between 12% and 25% of the time, regardless of how they feel about the actual bullying victimization experiences or the victims themselves. Social dilemmas often stand in the way of bully bystanders from coming to the aid of the victim. (Kohm, 2015). Even cliques into which individuals group can come into play. In this blog, the purpose is to discuss bullying bystanders and examine how social dilemmas and cliques can keep them from defending victims of bullying.
What are social dilemmas, and how do they affect the bystander?
Social dilemmas occur when individuals make decisions with only themselves in mind; they are based in the belief that individuals do not have the confidence that others will join them in their cause to support a belief or an individual. (Kohm, 2015). A good example of a social dilemma is the public goods dilemma, in which an individual will not assist in a public service if she/he believes others will refuse to contribute or if the individual believes assistance will be a waste of his/her time (Kollock, 1998). This concept shows that many individuals believe that any act defending victims may lead to their own victimization. In other words, if they defend victims, then they too may be victimized (Adler & Adler, 1995).
How do cliques influence a bystander?
Cliques are usually highly influential on those who witness bullying victimization. For instance, most individuals will only side with the popular clique (Kohm, 2015). The bully usually falls on the popular side of the two groups while the victim is on the other side with the unpopular individuals (Kohm, 2015). Pro-bullying behavior is related more closely to popular groups, in general, when it comes to defending behaviors (Kohm, 2015). Individuals will naturally side with popular groups before they try to defend victims. Individuals who are less popular may even begin to harass other less popular individuals in order to boost their own statuses and become a part of popular cliques.
Findings from Kohm’s (2015) Study
Kohm (2015) examined how attitudes, group norms, and social dilemmas influence individual behavior in bullying situations. The sample included 292 participants between the ages of 11 and 14 who attended a private residential school in the United States. Results revealed that both individual (e.g., protecting the victim and withdrawing from the bullying event) and group factors (e.g., encouraging bullying and trying to stop the bulling) were associated with behaviors in bullying situations. Additionally, anti-bullying attitudes were good predictors of behaviors in bullying situations. As anti-bullying behaviors increased, pro-bullying behaviors and support for the bullying decreased (Kohm, 2015). Social dilemmas were only found to predict behavior in bullying situations at the group level.
In conclusion, social dilemmas and cliques both can influence individuals of all ages, from kindergarten to high school. Social dilemmas and cliques both include strong social factors and group influences. In order to understand bystander behavior, they must both be taken into account. In the Kohm (2015) article, her research, which used student surveys, was able to show that individual (social dilemmas) and group factors (cliques) both influence individual behavior in bullying situations. It is important that we learn to understand how social dilemmas and cliques influence bystander behavior among individuals within schools so that teachers, parents, school counselors, and even principals may be able to counsel individuals who are having to deal with these bullying behaviors on a daily basis.
Adler, P., & Adler, P. (1995). Dynamics of inclusion and exclusion of preadolescent cliques. Social Psychology Quarterly, 58(3), 145-162.
Kohm, A. (2015). Childhood bullying and social dilemmas. Aggressive Behavior, 41(2), 97-108.
Kollock, P. (1998). Social dilemmas: The anatomy of cooperation. Annual Review of Sociology, 24, 183-194.
Dr. H. Colleen Sinclair
Social Psychologist, Relationships Researcher,
Ms. Chelsea Ellithorpe
Lab Manager of the Social Relations Collaborative and Blog Editor