Examining the impact of correcting for norm misperception on bullying and bystander behavioral intentions
Research has documented that upwards of 85% of students across the preschool through high school levels have some involvement in bullying incidents, whether as bully, victim, or bystander. Recent evidence has emphasized the influential role of bystanders, in particular, with passive behavior reinforcing those who bully, and defending behavior—though infrequent—successfully ending bullying episodes quickly and effectively. To that end, the current study investigated whether personalized normative feedback could operate as a mechanism by which to reduce norm misperception of attitudes toward bullying, and thus, create positive change in bystander behavior. While this type of intervention has shown promising effects in a variety of contexts, no study to date has examined its utility in the specific context of bullying. Baseline participants included 188 seventh grade students, 175 of which were randomized into four study groups for follow-up data collection. Children in the experimental condition received personalized normative feedback on attitudes toward bullying. Control conditions were the following: general normative feedback on attitudes toward bullying, the absence of normative feedback, and personalized normative feedback on attitudes toward drug use. Findings indicated that normative feedback, both personalized and general, led to significant perceived peer attitude change in the direction of the group norm. No intervention effects emerged on either personal attitude change or bystander behavioral intentions. Looking to build upon the present findings, future directions consider methodology modifications and the examination of additional, relevant constructs. Implications highlight the positive clinical outcomes that could result from reduced norm misperception and increased engagement in prosocial bystander behavior.