Graduation Date

Spring 2021

Document Type



Master of Arts degree with a major in Education

Committee Chair Name

Dr. Libbi R. Miller

Committee Chair Affiliation

HSU Faculty or Staff

Second Committee Member Name

Dr. Kenny Richards

Second Committee Member Affiliation

HSU Faculty or Staff


Bullying, Participant role model, Defender, Outsider, Moral disengagement, Permissive school climate, Interview study, Northern California, High school, Parenting typologies

Subject Categories



This study examined the cognitions of students who intervene or do not intervene when they witness bullying incidents along with the ways that these cognitions may relate to these students’ perceptions of school climate at a small, rural high school in Northern California. Because increasing the frequency of bystander intervention has been found in prior studies to decrease bullying, this study illuminates the cognitive processes that support agency to intervene in bullying and distinguish them from cognitive processes that reduce agency to intervene. This study also identifies possible links between the ways students perceive school climate and their agency to intervene. Using a reduced version of the Participant Role Questionnaire, students were peer-identified to be Defenders or Outsiders. The participants engaged in confidential semi-structured interviews, and their statements were organized by grounded theory in regard to student cognitions and using a predetermined list of constructs to analyze student perceptions of school climate. The results of this study indicate that Outsiders did not intervene in bullying incidents primarily due to fear, including social fears of losing status by standing out from others, and their cognitive processes reflected many aspects of moral disengagement. In contrast, the Defenders intervened in bullying incidents because they believed that bullying is “just wrong,” and they translated their moral thinking into moral action during incidents once they assessed the events to be bullying rather than lesser forms of antisocial behavior. The participants widely perceived their school climate to be high in Care and low in Order, thus meeting the criteria for a Permissive school climate. It is likely that the Permissive school climate reduced defending behaviors during bullying incidents while increasing the frequency of the instigation of bullying. The effectiveness of using only the two orthogonal constructs of Care and Order to define school climate types and their effects was not contradicted by this study, but the findings of this study suggest that additional school-climate related constructs and moving beyond binary ratings of high or low should be considered when designing school climate-improvement plans that could lead to increased Defender behavior and fewer bullying incidents.

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