Empathy and Moral Disengagement as Predictors of Bystander Roles in School Bullying

Zora Raboteg-Šaric, Sanja Bartakovic


Objective - The aims of this study were to explore bystander roles based on the Participant Role Questionnaire (PRQ) and to determine the contribution of affective empathy and moral disengagement in explaining bystander roles in bullying.

Methods - The sample included 325 elementary school students aged 11-16 years old. Students’ involvement in different bystander roles was assessed by subscales adapted from the PRQ, and their individual characteristics were measured by the Emotional Empathy Scale and the adapted version of the Moral Disengagement Scale.

Results - The factor analysis revealed a five-factor structure of bystander role scales (assistant, reinforcer, defender, aggressive defender and outsider). The Outsider scale did not show satisfactory reliability. Boys had significantly higher scores on assisting the bully, whereas girls had significantly higher scores on defending the victim. Reinforcing the bully increased with students’ age, while  defending the victim decreased with age. Hierarchical regression analyses revealed that, after controlling for the effects of bystanders’ gender and age, emotional empathy had significant positive effects on defender and aggressive defender roles, and a significant negative effect on the reinforcer role. Moral disengagement was a significant positive predictor of assistant, reinforcer and aggressive defender roles, and a negative predictor of the defender role.

Conclusion - Bystanders’ affective empathy and moral disengagement are important determinants of  their behaviour in bullying situations. The validity of differentiating between the roles of assertive and aggressive defenders is confirmed.


Bullying; Bystander Roles; Affective Empathy; Moral Disengagement; Adolescents.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.5457/p2005-114.248


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