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Developmental Psychology

Classroom Norms of Bullying Alter the Degree to Which

Children Defend in Response to Their Affective Empathy
and Power
Ktlin Peets, Virpi Pyhnen, Jaana Juvonen, and Christina Salmivalli
Online First Publication, May 11, 2015.

Peets, K., Pyhnen, V., Juvonen, J., & Salmivalli, C. (2015, May 11). Classroom Norms of
Bullying Alter the Degree to Which Children Defend in Response to Their Affective Empathy
and Power. Developmental Psychology. Advance online publication.
Developmental Psychology 2015 American Psychological Association
2015, Vol. 51, No. 5, 000 0012-1649/15/$12.00

Classroom Norms of Bullying Alter the Degree to Which Children Defend

in Response to Their Affective Empathy and Power

Ktlin Peets Virpi Pyhnen

Utrecht University and Tallinn University University of Turku

Jaana Juvonen Christina Salmivalli

University of California, Los Angeles University of Turku
This article is intended solely for the personal use of the individual user and is not to be disseminated broadly.
This document is copyrighted by the American Psychological Association or one of its allied publishers.

This study examined whether the degree to which bullying is normative in the classroom would moderate
associations between intra- (cognitive and affective empathy, self-efficacy beliefs) and interpersonal
(popularity) factors and defending behavior. Participants were 6,708 third- to fifth-grade children (49%
boys; Mage 11 years) from 383 classrooms. Multilevel modeling analyses revealed that children were
more likely to defend in response to their affective empathy in classrooms with high levels of bullying.
In addition, popular students were more likely to support victims in classrooms where bullying was
associated with social costs. These findings highlight the importance of considering interactions among
individual and contextual influences when trying to understand which factors facilitate versus inhibit
childrens inclinations to defend others.

Keywords: classroom norms, bullying, defending, empathy, popularity

Standing up for a victim of bullying is a powerful act that not In line with social information processing theories (Crick &
only alleviates the distress of a victim, but also helps stop bullying Dodge, 1994; Lemerise & Arsenio, 2000), emotional-cognitive
behavior (Hawkins, Pepler, & Craig, 2001; Sainio, Veenstra, Hu- factors, such as empathy and self-efficacy, increase the likelihood
itsing, & Salmivalli, 2011). Although defending defined as tak- of defending (Barchia & Bussey, 2011; Caravita, Di Blasio, &
ing a stand on behalf of the victim by directly stepping in, seeking Salmivalli, 2009; Gini, Albiero, Benelli, & Alto, 2007, 2008;
help, or comforting the victim (Salmivalli & Voeten, 2004)is a Pyhnen, Juvonen, & Salmivalli, 2010). When making a distinc-
prosocial act, it carries social risk because students who bully tion between cognitive (perspective taking skills) versus affective
others are often perceived as popular among their classmates (vicariously feeling another persons emotions) empathy, only the
(Juvonen & Galvn, 2008; Vaillancourt, Hymel, & McDougall, affective component has been found to predict defending behavior
2003). Because of the negative consequences victimization brings (Barchia & Bussey, 2011; Caravita et al., 2009; Pyhnen et al.,
for individuals (Card & Hodges, 2008) as well as for others who 2010). Thus, in order for bystanders to engage in defending be-
witness victimization (Rivers, Poteat, Noret, & Ashurst, 2009), it havior, their emotions should be elicited by the plight of the
is critical to understand which factors spur, and which ones hinder, victim. However, affective empathy is unlikely to be a sufficient
bystanders to stand up for and defend victims. The purpose of this sole motivator for defending behavior. It is also important that
study was to better understand how contextual factors (i.e., children feel confident in their ability to defend the victim. Such
classroom-level norms) might influence the degree to which chil- self-efficacy beliefs are considered to be major drivers of behavior
drens intra- and interpersonal characteristics are translated into and play a prominent role in both social cognitive learning (e.g.,
defending behavior. Bandura, 1986) and social information processing theories (e.g.,
Crick & Dodge, 1994). Indeed, children who have high self-
efficacy for defending are more likely to engage in defending
behavior (Gini et al., 2008; Pyhnen et al., 2010; Pyhnen,
Ktlin Peets, Department of Psychology, Utrecht University, and Insti- Juvonen, & Salmivalli, 2012). Thus, children who believe in their
tute of Psychology, Tallinn University; Virpi Pyhnen, Department of capabilities to defend are likely to feel more competent in facing
Psychology, University of Turku; Jaana Juvonen, Department of Psychol- challenging situations, such as standing up for their victimized
ogy, University of California, Los Angeles; Christina Salmivalli, Depart- peers.
ment of Psychology, University of Turku. In addition, interpersonal factors, such as social standing in the
This study was supported by Academy of Finland Grant 134843 to
peer group (popularity or power), can make a difference in terms
Christina Salmivalli. We thank Ernest V. E. Hodges for his feedback on
earlier versions of this article. Our special gratitude also goes to all the
of whether children engage in supporting the victim against bul-
children and teachers who made this study possible. lying (Caravita et al., 2009; Pyhnen et al., 2010). Because
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Ktlin children who engage in aggression or bullying are often highly
Peets, Department of Psychology, Utrecht University, 3508 TC Utrecht, popular (Caravita et al., 2009; Cillessen & Mayeux, 2004; Cil-
The Netherlands. E-mail: lessen & Rose, 2005; Newcomb, Bukowski, & Pattee, 1993;


Parkhurst & Hopmeyer, 1998; Sandstrom & Cillessen, 2006), stronger pressure by their peers to intervene (Pozzoli, Gini, &
defenders might need an equally high social rank to have the Vieno, 2012). This progress, however, has been primarily limited
courage to stand up for the victims. In other words, high-status to increasing our understanding of contextual factors that predict
classmates are likely to be in the best position to challenge those between-classroom differences in mean levels of defending. Much
who bully. less is known on how these contextual factors might moderate
However, not all the children act on their inclinations to defend. associations between individual differences in intra- and interper-
Guided by social-ecological perspectives (e.g., Bronfenbrenner, sonal characteristics and defending. The few studies that have
1977; Farmer, Lines, & Hamm, 2011; Ladd, 2003; Swearer & examined such cross-level interactions have been limited to un-
Espelage, 2004), we expected that the degree to which children act derstanding how differences between countries (Pozzoli, Ang, &
on their empathy, efficacy, and power is likely to be affected by Gini, 2012) or school levels (primary vs. secondary; Pozzoli, Gini,
their social environment. The focus of this study was on classroom & Vieno, 2012) moderate the effects of individual factors (e.g.,
environment (interactions among classmates) because it provides a perceived peer pressure) on taking actions to support the victims.
major socialization context during middle childhood (see also Thus, this study was undertaken to expand our understanding of
This article is intended solely for the personal use of the individual user and is not to be disseminated broadly.

Pozzoli, Gini, & Vieno, 2012). Importantly, different norms oper- how classroom-level norms might strengthen or weaken
This document is copyrighted by the American Psychological Association or one of its allied publishers.

ating within a classroom context can either support or inhibit individual-level associations. We anticipated that when bullying
childrens inclinations to behave in certain ways. We examined the behavior is common in the classroom (average levels of
influence of two types of normsdescriptive and social prestige classroom-level bullying are high), it is less likely that children
norms. Descriptive classroom norms refer to what most students in would act on their empathy, especially affective empathy, and
their classroom do (see the definition by Cialdini, Reno, & Kall- self-efficacy. Their reluctance would be due to the lack of support
gren, 1990). The influence of descriptive norms has been studied from their classmates and concern of placing themselves at a
more extensively on the development of aggression rather than on greater risk of becoming the next victim. We also hypothesized
other behaviors in the peer group. For example, in classrooms that social prestige norms (the degree to which bullying is asso-
where aggression is more common, children become more aggres- ciated with popularity, a social reward valued in the peer group)
sive over time (e.g., Mercer, McMillen, & DeRosier, 2009; would moderate childrens likelihood of acting on their inclina-
Thomas, Bierman, Powers, & The Conduct Problems Research tions to defend. Specifically, we anticipated that social prestige
Group, 2011). Also, negative behaviors, such as bullying, are norms might moderate the degree to which popular students en-
associated with fewer negative consequences in contexts where gage in defending. Popular students could be expected to withdraw
such behaviors are more common (Sentse, Scholte, Salmivalli, & from defending in classrooms where bullying is positively associ-
Voeten, 2007). Thus, childrens decisions on which actions to take ated with popularity because by challenging (or provoking) pop-
are likely to be influenced by what other classmates do in similar ular bullies via defending they could risk losing what they value
situations, as well as by whether they, or their peers, have previ- the mostrespect and admiration by other popular peers. Simi-
ously been rewarded or punished by engaging in similar behaviors. larly, children might be less likely to act on their empathy or
In addition to descriptive norms, we envisioned that the degree efficacy in classrooms where bullying is positively associated with
to which children act on their empathy and sense of efficacy is popularity because they are concerned of being the potential future
influenced by social prestige norms (Dijkstra, Lindenberg, & targets of popular bullies (who have social power and a network of
Veenstra, 2008). Social prestige refers to the perceived values or relationships to make things unbearable for them).
social rewards attached to specific behaviors (see also Galvan, Our study focused on middle childhood because children in
Spatzier & Juvonen, 2011). For instance, Dijkstra, Lindenberg, and middle to late childhood are more capable of perspective taking,
Veenstra (2008) showed that bullying was associated with fewer engaging in social comparison processes, as well as empathizing
negative consequences when popular rather than unpopular chil- with others compared with younger children (Fabes, Carlo, Ku-
dren engaged in high rates of bullying behaviors. They concluded panoff, & Laible, 1999; Harter, 2012). Also, the frequency of
that children are more likely to emulate behaviors enacted by defending behaviors declines from middle childhood to adoles-
popular bullies than by others. However, although bullies are often cence (e.g., Caravita, Gini, & Pozzoli, 2012; Pozzoli et al., 2012)
considered popular (Caravita et al., 2009; Cillessen & Mayeux, which suggests that it might be more difficult to implement anti-
2004; Cillessen & Rose, 2005; Newcomb et al., 1993; Parkhurst & bullying programs in older age groups because defending and
Hopmeyer, 1998; Sandstrom & Cillessen, 2006), classrooms may other prosocial behaviors might be losing their prominence in
vary in whether bullying is socially rewarded by others or not. childrens behavioral repertoire. Thus, understanding which indi-
Hence, childrens likelihood of acting on their inclinations to vidual and contextual factors enhance defending in middle child-
defend a victimized peer depends also on whether they are in a hood could potentially offer a promising window for improving
classroom in which bullying is associated with high versus low the lives of children suffering persistent bullying attacks.
Increasing progress has been made on understanding contextual Method
effects on defending behavior. For instance, research shows that
children are more likely to defend in classrooms where bullying is Participants
less frequent (Krn, Voeten, Poskiparta, & Salmivalli, 2010;
Salmivalli, Voeten, & Poskiparta, 2011; see also Espelage, Green, We used pretest data from the KiVa bullying intervention pro-
& Polanin, 2012 on willingness to intervene), where children hold gram (see Krn et al., 2011 for a more detailed description of
stronger antibullying beliefs (Salmivalli & Voeten, 2004) and sampling procedures). Data were collected in May 2007. The
greater provictim attitudes, and where children collectively feel initial sample included a total of 8,211 third- to fifth-grade students

(from 425 classrooms, 77 schools) of which 7,476 students (from and divided by the number of nominators. Scores could vary from
419 classrooms) received active parental consent to participate. 0 to 1.
Most of the students lived with both of their parents (79%; n Self-efficacy beliefs for defending behavior. To assess self-
5,529; 7,016 children provided information about their family efficacy beliefs for defending behavior (Pyhnen et al., 2010,
situation). Majority of participants and their parents were born in 2012), students were asked to evaluate how easy or difficult it
Finland (see Strohmeier, Krn, & Salmivalli, 2011). We excluded would be for them to defend the victim of bullying (three items;
classrooms with fewer than six students (65 students from 24 e.g., Trying to make others stop the bullying would be 0 very
classrooms) because they did not receive the popularity measure, easy . . . 3 very difficult for me). The item content was parallel
resulting in a sample of 7,411 third- to fifth-grade students from to the PRQ items. Answers were reverse coded, so that higher
395 classrooms. Finally, we excluded cases with missing values, scores indicated greater self-efficacy for defending. Finally, scores
resulting in a final sample of 6,708 students from 383 classrooms were averaged across the three items (Cronbachs alpha .69).
(49% boys; 32% third graders, 33% fourth graders, and 36% fifth Affective and cognitive empathy. A seven-item measure was
graders; Mage 11 years; range: 8.46 to 13.93 years). used to assess empathy (Krn et al., 2011). Affective empathy
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was measured with four items that assess the degree to which
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students share the victims feelings (e.g., When the bullied stu-
dent is sad, I also feel sad). Cognitive empathy was tapped by
The data were collected through Internet-based questionnaires. three items that measure the degree to which students understand
Testing sessions were held during regular school hours at com- the victims feelings (e.g., I can understand how the bullied
puter labs under the supervision of teachers. Each school had student must feel). Responses were provided on a 4-point scale
access to computers. Teachers were given detailed instructions (from 0 never true to 3 always true). Scores for both scales
concerning the procedure 2 weeks prior to the data collection. If were averaged across the respective items. Higher scores reflect
teachers had any questions or concerns, they could obtain support greater empathy. Internal consistencies were .85 and .75 for affec-
via phone or e-mail. The order of the questionnaires as well as the tive and cognitive empathy, respectively.
order of the items within questionnaires were randomized. Creating contextual variables. We created two new
At the beginning of the testing session, the term bullying was classroom-level variables. First, the classroom-level of bullying
defined to students. The definition included three main compo- (descriptive norm) was derived by averaging individual bullying
nents of bullying: intent to harm, repeated nature, and imbalance of scores for each classroom. Second, the social prestige norm was
power (see, e.g., Olweus, 1999). Teachers read the definition out indexed by computing the bullying-popularity correlation for each
loud and students were then asked to read the same definition from classroom (correlations varied from .89 to .91).
their computer screens. Additionally, a shortened version of the
definition (i.e., It is bullying, when a person is repeatedly made to Results
feel bad on purpose) always appeared on the upper part of the
computer screen when students responded to bullying related
questions (i.e., Participant Role Questionnaire).
Analysis Strategy
We used multilevel modeling (Mplus 7.3; Muthn & Muthn,
Measures 1998 2012) to take into account the interdependence of observa-
tions. Defending served as the criterion variable. Age, gender,
Defending and bullying behavior. Defending and bullying bullying behavior, self-efficacy, affective and cognitive empathy,
behaviors were measured by means of the Participant Role Ques- and perceived popularity served as within- (individual-) level
tionnaire (PRQ; Salmivalli & Voeten, 2004). The defender scale covariates. Age and gender were grand- rather than group-mean
consists of three peer nomination items describing defending and centered to control for between-classroom differences in propor-
supporting of the victims of bullying (i.e., Tries to make others tion of boys (vs. girls) and age. Other variables were group-mean
stop bullying; Comforts the victim or encourages him/her to tell centered. Descriptive norms (i.e., classroom level bullying) and
the teacher about the bullying; Tells others to stop bullying or social prestige norms (i.e., bullying-popularity correlation) served
says that bullying is stupid). The bullying scale also includes as classroom-level covariates. In addition, because classrooms
three peer nomination items (i.e., Starts bullying; Makes others varied in size (from six to 35 students) and our preliminary
join in the bullying; Always finds new ways of harassing the analyses showed that classroom size was related to our other study
victim). Participants were given a class roster and asked to constructs, this variable was also included as a classroom-level
nominate an unlimited number of classmates who fit the descrip- covariate. Classroom size and classroom-level bullying were
tion in an item. For each participant the nominations received were grand-mean centered (we did not center bullying-popularity cor-
first tallied for each item and divided by the number of nominators. relation because the value of 0 was interpretable). Means and
Finally, two scale scores were created by averaging across the standard deviations of study variables are presented in Table 1.
three defending and three bullying items. Internal consistency of Correlations can be found from Tables 2 and 3.
both scales was good (defending: Cronbachs alpha .92; bully-
ing: Cronbachs alpha .91). Scores could range from 0 to 1.
Multilevel Analyses
Perceived popularity. To assess perceived popularity, partic-
ipants were asked to nominate three classmates they perceived as Random intercept model. We first ran an empty model
most popular (i.e., Who are the most popular [students] in your (without any student- or classroom-level covariates) to explore the
class?). For each student, the number of nominations was tallied degree to which defending varied between classrooms. Within-

Table 1
Individual-Level Correlations Among Study Variables

Variables 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8

1. Defending
2. Bullying .426
3. Age .007 .024
4. Gender .514 .355 .014
5. Efficacy .116 .035 .043 .065
6. Affective empathy .301 .192 .071 .280 .197
7. Cognitive empathy .165 .111 .066 .137 .169 .582
8. Popularity .193 .158 .031 .070 .070 .005 .015
M 0.067 10.995 1.807 1.835 2.259 0.161
Var 0.014 0.014 0.803 0.531 0.528 0.399 0.033
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Note. Girl 0; Boy 1. Defending was allowed to vary between classrooms (thus, mean for defending is presented in Table 2). All the other constructs
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were specified as within-level variables.

p .05. p .01. p .001.

and between-level variance estimates were .013 and .008, respec- main research question concerned cross-level interactions
tively (both were significant at p .001). The intraclass correla- whether associations between student-level predictors and defend-
tion (ICC) was .36, indicating that 36% of the variance in defend- ing varied across classrooms as a function of classroom-level
ing behavior was due to differences between the classrooms. norms. We found that classroom descriptive norms regarding
Random-intercept model with student-level covariates. bullying moderated the link between affective empathy and de-
Next, we added individual-level covariates to our previous model fending. Also, the social prestige norms of bullying moderated the
(see Table 3 for the results). In this model, the effects of association between participants popularity and their defending.
individual-level covariates on defending were treated as fixed (i.e., To unpack these effects, we first analyzed the association between
similar across classrooms). Consistent with prior research, students affective empathy and defending by comparing simple slopes
who had higher efficacy beliefs for defending and who felt more (using the Model Constraint option in Mplus) at low (2 and 1 SD
affective empathy toward the victims were more likely to engage below the mean), average (at the mean), and high levels (1 and 2
in defending behavior. Also, students who were considered more SD above the mean) of classroom-level bullying. As shown in
popular by their classmates were more likely to stand up for their Figure 1, these links became increasingly stronger as the level of
victimized peers. Finally, bullies and boys were less likely to classroom bullying increased (very low value-.089: b .010, SE
engage in defending. Altogether 38% of the variance in defending .005, p .040; low value-.045: b .015, SE .003, p .001;
was explained by individual-level predictors [(.013.008)/.013]. average value0: b .019, SE .002, p .001; high value.045: b
Random-intercept and random-slopes model. We then built .024, SE .003, p .001; very high value.089: b .029, SE
a model with four random slopes (cognitive empathy defending, .005, p .001). A similar procedure was undertaken when fol-
affective empathy defending, efficacy defending, popularity lowing up the other significant cross-level interaction between
defending). In addition to estimating whether the four slopes (asso- participants popularity and classroom-level prestige norms of
ciations between student-level predictors and defending) varied bullying. As shown in Figure 2, the results revealed that associa-
significantly across classrooms, we estimated all the covariances tions between popularity and defending became weaker as the
among the slopes and between the slopes and the intercept. We links between bullying and popularity moved from negative to
found that the effects of empathy on defending (Var 1.83808; positive (very low value-.486: b .249, SE .022, p .001; low
p .020) and popularity on defending (Var .019, p .001) value-.181: b .212, SE .014, p .001; average value.124: b
varied significantly across the classrooms. The two other slopes .176, SE .010, p .001; high value.429: b .139, SE .014,
that did not show significant between-classroom variability were p .001; very high value.734: b .103, SE .022, p .001).
specified to be fixed in the next model. Although we had not formed hypotheses about the moderating
Intercept- and slopes-as-outcomes model. Finally, we in- role of classroom size, we also tested the two interactions of
cluded classroom-level covariates in the model (see Table 3). Our Affective Empathy Class Size and Popularity Class Size.
Neither of the two interactions was significant (see Table 3).
Classroom-level predictors explained altogether 13% of the vari-
Table 2 ance in defending between classrooms [(.008 .007)/.008], 49%
Classroom-Level Correlations Among Study Variables of the variance in the affective empathy-defending slope
[(1.83808 9.35609)/1.83808], and 5% of the variance in the
Variables 1 2 3 4
popularity-defending slope [(.019 .018)/.019], using the random
1. Defending intercept and slopes model as the comparison.
2. Class size .204
3. Descriptive norms .114 .377 Discussion
4. Social prestige norms .209 .063 .080
M 0.200 20.582 0.073 0.124 This study was designed to examine whether classroom bullying
Var 0.008 31.079 0.002 0.093
norms influence the degree to which children defend in respond to

Table 3
Predicting Defending Behavior (Summary of Results From Multilevel Modeling)

Intercept- and slopes-as-

Random-coefficient model outcomes model
Coeff SE Coeff SE

Individual-level variables
Bullying .306 .011 .287 .011
Age .001 .003 .001 .003
Gender .090 .002 .091 .002
Self-efficacy .005 .002 .005 .002
Affective empathy .020 .002 .019 .002
Cognitive empathy .000a .002 .001 .002
Popularity .167 .006 .191 .010
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Classroom-level variables
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Class size .001

Descriptive norms .327 .111
Social prestige norms .050 .015
Interactions (Individual-Level Predictor Classroom-Level Moderator)
Affective Empathy Class Size .000a .000a
Affective Empathy Descriptive Norms .103 .048
Affective Empathy Social Prestige Norms .002 .006
Popularity Class Size .000a .002
Popularity Descriptive Norms .050 .238
Popularity Social Prestige Norms .120 .032
Residual variance (within) .008 .000a .007 .000
Residual variance (between): intercept .008 .001 .007 .001
Residual variance (between): slopeaffective empathy-defending .000a .000
Residual variance (between): slopepopularity-defending .018 .002
Note. Coeff coefficient. Unstandardized coefficients are presented. Gender and age were grand-mean centered. All other individual-level predictors
were group-mean centered. Classroom size and classroom-level bullying were grand-mean centered. Covariances among the slopes and intercept were
modeled (in the intercept- and slopes-as-outcomes model) but not shown in this table.
Mplus rounds numbers to three decimal places.

p .05. p .01. p .001.

their empathy, efficacy, and popularity. Consistent with previous characterized by high versus low levels of bullying. Why would children
social-ecological perspectives (e.g., Bronfenbrenner, 1977; Farmer be more likely to act on their affective empathy in contexts where
et al., 2011; Juvonen & Galvn, 2008; Swearer & Espelage, 2004), the overall levels of bullying are high? In such classrooms, vic-
our findings suggest that classroom norms can have a powerful tims suffering might be more serious and noticeable (more dis-
influence on whether children act on their empathy and use their tress provoking), and this might increase the likelihood of children
social rank to defend their peers, underscoring the importance of acting on their affective empathy. It could also be that in class-
moving beyond main effect models to the study of interactive rooms with high levels of bullying, children perceive that there is
processes among individual and contextual influences. a higher threat to close others (as well as to self) that makes
Consistent with prior findings (e.g., Pyhnen et al., 2010), both children more aroused and thus more likely to act on their em-
affective empathy and self-efficacy for defending had a unique pathic affect. Interestingly, a recent study conducted with adults
effect on defending behavior, whereas cognitive empathy did not suggests that empathy can also be actualized into aggression
(despite the significant bivariate correlation). Thus, it is the vicar- toward the provocateur when the close other is perceived to be in
ious sharing of victims feelings and having confidence in standing distress (Buffone & Poulin, 2014). Thus, future research is needed
up for the victim, rather than cognitive perspective taking, that to understand whether the relationship with the victim (e.g., a
matters in terms of whether children engage in supporting the friend vs. a more distant classmate) and perceived distress in the
victim. In addition, children who were more popular were more victim matters in terms of which behaviors empathy activates.
likely to defend others, suggesting that social power allows chil- Our results also showed that children were more likely to use
dren to take on more challenging acts. It is encouraging to know their social status in prosocial ways (the link between popularity
that popularity is not only related to behaviors that bring harm to and defending was positive and stronger) in classrooms where
others (e.g., aggression, bullying; Caravita et al., 2009; Cillessen & bullying was associated with social costs. Thus, interestingly, the
Mayeux, 2004; Cillessen & Rose, 2005; Newcomb et al., 1993; degree to which popular children engaged in defending was not
Parkhurst & Hopmeyer, 1998; Sandstrom & Cillessen, 2006) but dependent on descriptive but social prestige norms. In classrooms
also to behaviors that are more prosocial in nature. where bullies are popular, popular children might be less likely to
Importantly, we found that the degree to which affective empa- engage in defending behavior because they are afraid to lose their
thy predicts defending depends on the classroom descriptive norms position in the peer group. In contrast, in environments where
(i.e., aggregate levels of bullying). Contrary to what was expected, bullying is associated with social costs, defending could be one of
affective empathy had stronger links with defending in classrooms the strategies that helps popular students to maintain their high

Thus, the problem might not be that children do not feel for the
victims but rather they inhibit themselves due to the existing norms
in the peer group. Also, our findings suggest that the situation
would improve for many victims if children were made aware of
how they contribute to the bullying process and how they can
provide rewards (as well as take away rewards) from bullies.
Influencing the behavior of bystanders can reduce the rewards
gained by bullies and consequently, their motivation to bully in the
first place. In addition, supporting students to verbalize their
private attitudes, that are often against bullying (Boulton, True-
man, & Flemington, 2002; Rigby & Johnson, 2006; Rigby & Slee,
1991; Whitney, Nabuzoka, & Smith, 1992), may reduce develop-
ment of false norms, a process labeled as pluralistic ignorance, that
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might only represent the attitudes of popular bullies (see, e.g.,

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Juvonen & Galvn, 2008). For instance, there is evidence showing

that children are less likely to defend others when they underesti-
mate their fellow students antibullying (prosocial) attitudes
(Sandstrom, Makover, & Bartini, 2013). Interestingly, our results
suggest that high levels of bullying have a positive effect in the
sense that children are more likely to act on their empathy to
defend someone in distress. However, this is not to suggest that
high levels of bullying should be encouraged (the levels of de-
fending were actually lower in high-bullying classrooms; see Fig-
Figure 1. Associations between participants affective empathy and de- ure 1) but rather that in high-bullying classrooms, childrens af-
fending as a function of descriptive norms of bullying (classroom-level fective empathy might matter more in terms of eliciting defending
behavior than in low-bullying classrooms where defending is more
normative anyway.

status in the peer group. Hence, popular individuals might be

especially attuned to and consequently model behaviors that are
rewarded versus punished by similar others. This suggests that
popular students do not equally observe the behavior of all class-
mates but are primarily influenced by the behavior of their popular
peers (Dijkstra et al., 2008). Thus, when examining the behavioral
correlates of popularity, it is vital to understand the classroom
social reward structure.
Some limitations of this study will need to be addressed in
future research. First, our hypotheses will need to be retested with
longitudinal data as our cross-sectional design does not allow us to
make inferences about the direction of the effects. For example, it
is possible that defending arouses affective empathy and increases
efficacy for defending over time, and this might be further depen-
dent on classroom-level norms. Similarly, defending might be used
to attain, or make gains in, popularity in classrooms where bully-
ing is not considered cool. Also, future research is needed to find
out whether affective empathy is more strongly associated with
defending in classrooms where bullying is normative because
children feel personal distress and want to eliminate such aversive
feelings, or because they feel sympathy toward the victim and thus
want to truly improve the victims plight (Eisenberg, 2000). Fi-
nally, this study focused on two types of norms. More insight is
needed into how other contextual factors (e.g., interpersonal cli-
mate, injunctive norms; see, for instance, Henry, Farrell, Schoeny,
Tolan, & Dymnicki, 2011) might influence the degree to which
children act on their inclinations to defend.
Our findings suggest that classroom norms can have a powerful Figure 2. Associations between participants popularity and defending as
influence on the degree to which children act on their affective a function of social prestige norms of bullying (bullying-popularity corre-
empathy and use their popularity to defend victims of bullying. lation).

Conclusions acceptance and rejection. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 36,

1289 1299.
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