Cyber-bullying: An Exploration of Bystander Behavior and Motivation

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While previous research has examined mainly self-reported bystander behavior during cyberbullying, the current study explored if and how bystanders responded when presented with a cyber-bullying simulation. We hypothesized that individuals high in empathy would supportively intervene (defend the victim) most frequently. College age participants (M = 20.34, SD = 1.26, range 18-27; N = 149), viewed a simulated Facebook conversation in which negative comments were directed towards another student and were provided open-ended opportunities to be involved in the Facebook conversation (i.e., "comment" to the other fictitious characters) and explain their reasoning for their behavior ("motivators") at two time points in the conversation (Time 1 and Time 2). Using a deductive-inductive process, we categorized participants' comments and motivators, the frequency of these responses, and their reasons for them. While the majority of participants (91%) asserted that cyber-bullying occurred in the conversation, most participants did not comment (Time 1: 69%, Time 2: 52%). Among those who commented, the most frequently cited motivators were either to defend the victim or mediate the situation. Consistent with our hypothesis, individuals who identified with the victim had higher empathy scores than those who identified with the bullies, although this was true only for the second part of the conversation (Time 2). Empathy scores did not differ by type of response at either time period. Future studies could utilize the categories and motivators established in this study as a framework for more extensive quantitative research to more comprehensively understand the underlying reasons for low intervention rates in cyber-bullying.

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Shultz, E., Heilman, R., & Hart, K. J. (2014). Cyber-bullying: An exploration of bystander behavior and motivation. Cyberpsychology, 8(4), 53-70. doi:10.5817/CP2014-4-3