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BeVocal: The Bystander Intervention Initiative of The University of Texas at Austin

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Bystander Intervention

What is Bystander Intervention?

Bystander Intervention is recognizing a potentially harmful situation or interaction and choosing to respond in a way that could positively influence the outcome.

Social Ecological Model

BeVocal seeks to work at multiple levels of the social ecological model (see McLeroy, 1988) addressing multiple issues of types of harm and enhancing individual level self-efficacy to intervene as well as collective responsibility and peer norms surrounding the importance of bystander intervention. We seek to shift the culture of campus with the promotion of intervention as a norm of our community, beginning at orientationn through graduation.

public policy, community cultural values, norms, schools environment ethos, interpersonal social network, individual knowledge, attitude, skills

Addressing the Bystander Effect

Many studies have been conducted to examine the "bystander effect," a confusing pattern of social behaviors observed during situations in which witnesses ignore potential or actual harm and choose to do nothing to help another person. Numerous experiments have identified a number of factors that differentiate helping versus not helping those clearly in need. Early studies on bystander behavior focused primarily on the impact of group dynamics on intervention in apparent emergencies. For instance, experimental studies found that participants who believed they were the only witness to an emergency were more likely to report the apparent incident than if they believed they were part of a larger group. The effect was found to be particularly significant when an experimental participant was in a group of strangers or research confederates. However, groups of friends displayed helping behavior similar to students who believed they were witnessing the emergency alone.

BeVocal incorporates existing evidence of what motivates or prevents bystanders from effectively intervening. These factors found to significantly increase helping behavior include group cohesiveness, identification with person being targeted, previous interactions between the person and the observers, and high feelings of witness competence. Conversely, barriers such as social influence, fear of embarrassment, diffusion of responsibility, fear of retaliation, and pluralistic ignorance can prevent a bystander from helping.

Application to Four Year Graduation Initiative

We believe that a university-wide initiative which promotes the social norm of intervention during potentially harmful situations will positively impact the four year graduation initiative. A student will have a greater chance of receiving the message and having that message reinforced through multiple issue areas which they may encounter. Any opportunity to reduce harm in a students life will further their goal of pursuing their academic success and persisting to graduation.

Ongoing Evaluation

There are many bystander programs being utilized nationally. Many that have been evaluated tend to be topic-specific, while more general bystander programs (i.e., those that promote a bystander intervention in a wide variety of scenarios) currently lack empirical support. We are committed to conducting a high level of evaluation of the BeVocal initiative to measure effectiveness and edit the content and delivery as needed for the UT student body.

UT students, faculty and staff will be positively impacted by:

  1. Increased awareness of the BeVocal initiative.
  2. Increase knowledge of the steps to bystander behavior (identify the potential harm, choose to respond, take action) and potential barriers (social influence, fear of embarrassment, diffusion of responsibility, fear of retaliation, pluralistic ignorance).
  3. Positive change in attitudes towards engaging in bystander behavior.
  4. Positive change in attitudes toward collective responsibility.
  5. Positive change in subjective norms toward engaging in bystander behavior.
  6. Positive change in perceived ability (or self-efficacy) to engage in bystander behavior.
  7. Positive change in intentions to engage in bystander behaviors in the future.

Resources

  • Banyard VL, Plante EG, Moynihan MM. Bystander education: Bringing a broader community perspective to sexual violence prevention. Journal of Community Psychology. 2004;32(1):61-79. Berkowitz AD. An overview of the social norms approach. Changing the culture of college drinking: A socially situated health communication campaign. 2005:193-214.
  • Cramer RE, Mcmaster MR, Bartell PA, Dragna M. Subject competence and minimization of the bystander effect. Journal of Applied Social Psychology. 1988;18(13):1133-1148.
  • Darley JM, Latane B. Bystander intervention in emergencies: diffusion of responsibility. Journal of personality and social psychology. 1968;8(4p1):377.
  • Education Advisory Board, The. (2011, May). Bystander Education Programs: Considerations for Structure and Curriculum. Washington, D.C.Latane B, Darley JM. Group inhibition of bystander intervention in emergencies. Journal of personality and social psychology. 1968;10(3):215.
  • Katz J, Moore J. Bystander Education Training for Campus Sexual Assault Prevention: An Initial Meta-Analysis. Violence and Victims. 2013;28(6):1054-1067.13. Katz J, Moore J. Bystander Education Training for Campus Sexual Assault Prevention: An Initial Meta-Analysis. Violence and Victims. 2013;28(6):1054-1067.
  • Katz J, Moore J. Bystander Education Training for Campus Sexual Assault Prevention: An Initial Meta-Analysis. Violence and Victims. 2013;28(6):1054-1067.13. Katz J, Moore J. Bystander Education Training for Campus Sexual Assault Prevention: An Initial Meta-Analysis. Violence and Victims. 2013;28(6):1054-1067.
  • Howard W, Crano WD. Effects of sex, conversation, location, and size of observer group on bystander intervention in a high risk situation. Sociometry. 1974:491-507.
  • Horowitz IA. The effect of group norms on bystander intervention. The journal of social psychology. 1971;83(2):265-273.
  • Latane B, Rodin J. A lady in distress: Inhibiting effects of friends and strangers on bystander intervention. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. 1969;5(2):189-202.
  • Rutkowski GK, Gruder CL, Romer D. Group cohesiveness, social norms, and bystander intervention. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 1983;44(3):545.
  • Schwartz SH, Clausen GT. Responsibility, norms, and helping in an emergency. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 1970;16(2):299.
  • Shaffer DR, Rogle M, Hendrlck C. Intervention in the library: The effect of increased responsibility on bystanders' willingness to prevent a theft. Journal of Applied Social Psychology. 1975;5(4):303-319.


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