Research aims to reveal why bullying happens

Christine Polihronis witnessed bullying many times growing up in St. Catharines.

“I watched a lot. I was never the one to step in,” she said.

She’s also been the victim of name-calling, but “everyone’s been bullied.”

Being categorized as a passive bystander has led the Carleton University psychology graduate student to some interesting research.

Polihronis, 25, is studying why good people do bad things, all in the name of developing programs to reduce bullying.

Bystanders, she said, take on three roles: Actively joining in, passively watching, and intervening.

Polihronis points to a 1999 study at two Toronto elementary schools showing 85% of children on school playgrounds were aware of bullying taking place yet did nothing to stop it.

Roughly 81% of the kids watching reinforced the bully’s behaviour, with intervention occurring just 25% of the time.

That behaviour all comes back to what she calls “moral disengagement.”

“People justify not intervening so they don’t feel guilty,” said Polihronis, mentioning fear as another reason.

Polihronis references another study where within 10 seconds of a person intervening, the bullying stops.

That has her searching for answers.

“Bullying is a group process, so you need to look at everyone involved including bystanders and also members of the wider community in order to come up with relevant solutions,” said Polihronis.

“It’s a terrible problem that can end up killing people so we need to take action now.”

Polihronis defends her thesis next month, then begins PhD work with faculty adviser Dr. Tina Daniels, a recognized leader on bullying research in Canada.

Nov. 13 to 19 is Bullying Awareness Week.

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