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Alternative Title

Prosocial moral reasoning among bystanders of cyberbullying and bullying in emerging adulthood

Publication Date


Document Type



School for Social Work


Cyberbullying, Bullying, Bystander effect, Judgement (Ethics), Reasoning (Psychology), Young adults-Psychology, Adolescent psychology, Emerging adulthood, Bystanders, Prosocial moral reasoning


Witnessing cyberbullying and bullying can pose a dilemma for adolescents and emerging adults. They negotiate complex dynamics online and offline (“in real life,” or IRL) as they determine how to respond. This qualitative grounded theory study examines prosocial moral reasoning and helping responses of thirty-one bystanders of cyberbullying and bullying at seven urban and suburban colleges and universities in two neighboring states in the northeastern United States. Research over three decades has shown that bystanders play a vital role in perpetuating, as well as preventing and stopping bullying, but dilemmas of helping may take new form within shifting and increasingly overlapping online and IRL dynamics. Four conceptual categories were identified in moral reasoning of helping bystanders: 1. Idealization of college, 2. Identificatory processes, 3. Looking out for friends, and 4. Principles of social and community justice. Participants also recalled specific strategies they had used for helping peers, including one-on one interventions between peers, and group-based responses. The conceptual findings are discussed in terms of implications for theory, research, and social work practice.




ix, 250 pages : color illustration. Ph.D. Dissertation-Smith College School for Social Work, Northampton, Ma., 2016. Includes bibliographical references (pages 166-194)