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Bullying is a complex phenomenon that involves environmental, cultural and social factors (Counselling Connection, 2015). Even though bullying is not limited to a specific culture or nation, recent statistics suggest that its dynamics tend to vary across cultures (PrevNet, n.d.). For example, countries like Hungary, Italy, Norway, Finland, Czech Republic and Iceland are associated with very low rates for both male and female victims, whereas Japanese and Indian students are likely to either exert or be exposed to aggressive behaviour at school (PrevNet, n.d.). While several studies have demonstrated that bystanders play a crucial role in triggering, fuelling, discouraging and even preventing bullying, it is still unclear whether their different reactions stem from psychological, emotional or contextual factors (Counselling Connection, 2015).
For example, Pozzoli & Gini (2013) found that parent and peer pressure, combined with various environmental and individual factors can affect young bystanders’ propensity to exhibit active or passive attitudes towards bullying. This clearly indicates that bystanders’ behaviour may depend on many different factors that will have to be explored in greater depth in order to understand and tackle bullying as effectively as possible. With regards to bystanders’ different physical and emotional responses, Padgett & Notar (2013) argued that even though most bystanders tend to consider bullying as a very unpleasant phenomenon, there exists a gap between their attitudes towards it and their actual reaction, which would explain why many of them are reluctant to stand against bullies in spite of their aversion to aggressive behaviour. In order to shed light on the factors that affect bystanders’ attitudes towards bullying, the present study aims to investigate this phenomenon from an alternative perspective. Specifically, it will attempt to determine whether and to what extent different types of bullying influence bystanders’ behaviour and attitudes by assessing participants’ emotional empathy through a Questionnaire Measure of Emotional Empathy (QMEE). Since most previous studies have investigated the dynamics and effects of bullying in western countries, this study will focus on China, where bullying appears to be a widespread phenomenon (NoBullying, 2016; Wu et al., 2015).
As explained by Mehrabian & Epstein (1972), QMEE helps measure respondents’ emotional reaction to other individuals’ emotional experiences. In other words, if a participant is moved in any way by others’ emotional experiences, exhibit sympathetic attitudes or wish to connect with people who have problems, QMEE should assist researchers in identifying such patterns (Mehrabian & Epstein, 1972). Mehrabian & Epstein (1972) used a nine-point rating system (ranging from -4 to +4) to determine the extent to which respondents agreed or disagreed with each statement. During the past four decades, Mehrabian & Epstein’s (1972) QMEE has been employed in various sociological studies in order to evaluate individuals’ responsiveness to the perceived experiences of others (Stets & Turner, 2007, p.448).
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