Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Thesis Format



Master of Science




Zarbatany, L.


Although children often are encouraged to defend victims of bullying, social consequences for defenders are relatively unknown. The present study examined the protective effects of defender and bully status on social and victimization outcomes after defending. Participants (N = 222, 118 male, age 10-14, Mage = 12.28 years) from six schools in South-western Ontario completed a 44-item questionnaire in which they reported on bully-victim-defender relationships in their classroom. Polynomial regression with response surface analysis indicated that the status effects of multiple bullying roles provided information beyond the status effects of each individual role. When defender popularity exceeded bully popularity, bullies retaliated less against the defender. When the defender was better-liked than the bully, the defender gained friends and popularity. However, defenders did not deter future victimization of the victim. These results point to the importance of relative status in protecting defenders, and indicate that other strategies are needed to protect victims.

Summary for Lay Audience

Bullying is a social problem that affects millions of children worldwide; up to 20% of children and adolescents report frequent victimization. Although researchers and educators have attempted to reduce bullying, success rates are modest. Observations in the classroom and the schoolyard show that when children stick up for victims of bullying, bullying often stop quickly. As a result, recent interventions encourage children to stand up for—or defend—their peers. However, little is known about whether defenders are successful at deterring bullying long-term, if there are negative (or positive) social consequences for defenders, and if these outcomes vary depending on the social status of defenders and bullies in the classroom. The present study aimed to assess social and victimization consequences for defenders, and determine whether high-status defenders are more successful at stopping bullying than low-status defenders. Additionally, the defender’s status relative to the bully’s status was assessed to see if defenders who were more popular or better-liked than the bully would experience more positive and fewer negative outcomes, and whether they would more successfully protect victims. Findings indicated that defenders who were more popular than the bully were safer from retaliation from the bully, and defenders who were better-liked than the bully made more new friends and became more popular as a result of their defending behaviour. However, regardless of status, defenders were not very effective at preventing future victimization of the victim. These results showed that status of the defender matters for defending outcomes, and importantly, that the status of the bully and defender together provide more information than status of these individuals alone. The mixed results regarding defender and victim outcomes suggest that we should be wary of encouraging all peers to defend; if some children suffer social losses and potential victimization for standing up to bullies, efforts should be made to develop alternative strategies.