“FearNot!”: a computer-based anti-bullying-programme designed to foster peer intervention

  • Natalie Vannini
  • Sibylle Enz
  • Maria Sapouna
  • Dieter Wolke
  • Scott Watson
  • Sarah Woods
  • Kerstin Dautenhahn
  • Lynne Hall
  • Ana Paiva
  • Elizabeth André
  • Ruth Aylett
  • Wolfgang Schneider


Bullying is widespread in European schools, despite multiple intervention strategies having been proposed over the years. The present study investigates the effects of a novel virtual learning strategy (“FearNot!”) to tackle bullying in both UK and German samples. The approach is intended primarily for victims to increase their coping skills and further to heighten empathy and defence of victims by non-involved bystanders. This paper focuses on the defender role. Applying quantitative as well as qualitative methodology, the present study found that “FearNot!” helped non-involved children to become defenders in the German sub-sample while it had no such effect in the UK sub-sample. German “New Defenders” (children who are initially uninvolved but are nominated as defenders by their peers after the intervention period) were found to be significantly more popular at baseline, and to show more cognitive empathy (Theory of Mind) for the virtual victims as compared to permanently non-involved pupils. Moreover, gender interacts with becoming a defender in its effects on affective empathy, with emotional contagion being particularly associated with New Defender status among girls. The findings are discussed in relation to previous research on anti-bullying intervention strategies and cultural differences in bullying prevalence rates and intervention outcomes.


Empathy Peer intervention Role-play School bullying Virtual learning environment 



We would like to thank all the schools, teachers, and children who have taken part in this study. In addition we would like to thank the following researchers, without whom this study would not have been possible: Stefanie Brosch, Rafal Dawidowicz, Megan Davis, Joao Dias, Rui Figueiredo, Adrian Gordon, Marc Hall, Wan Ching Ho, Michael Kriegel, Karin Leichtenstern, Mey Yii Lim, Sandy Louchart, Asad Nazir, Chystopher Nehaniv, Luis Oliveira, Malcolm Padmore, Matthias Rehm, Paola Rizzo, Harald Schaub, Tim Tisdale, Isabel Transoco, Marco Vala, Thurid Vogt, Marc Webster, and Carsten Zoll. Many thanks also to Katja Berberich, Anna-Verena Zeiser, Peter Kluge und Christian Welz for their assistance with data collection and entry.


This work was partially supported by the European Community (EC) and was funded by the eCIRCUS project IST-4-027656-STP with university partners Heriot-Watt, Hertfordshire, Sunderland, Warwick, Bamberg, Augsburg, Wuerzburg plus INESC-ID and Interagens. The authors are solely responsible for the content of this publication. It does not represent the opinion of the EC, and the EC is not responsible for any use that might be made of data appearing therein.


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Copyright information

© Instituto Superior de Psicologia Aplicada, Lisboa, Portugal and Springer Science+Business Media BV 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Natalie Vannini
    • 1
  • Sibylle Enz
    • 2
  • Maria Sapouna
    • 3
  • Dieter Wolke
    • 3
  • Scott Watson
    • 4
  • Sarah Woods
    • 4
  • Kerstin Dautenhahn
    • 5
  • Lynne Hall
    • 6
  • Ana Paiva
    • 7
  • Elizabeth André
    • 8
  • Ruth Aylett
    • 9
  • Wolfgang Schneider
    • 1
  1. 1.Institute of PsychologyUniversity of WuerzburgWuerzburgGermany
  2. 2.Gruppe fuer Interdisziplinaere PsychologieUniversitaet BambergBambergGermany
  3. 3.Department of PsychologyUniversity of WarwickCoventryUK
  4. 4.School of PsychologyUniversity of HertfordshireHatfieldUK
  5. 5.School of Computer ScienceUniversity of HertfordshireHatfieldUK
  6. 6.Department of Computing, Engineering and TechnologyUniversity of SunderlandSunderlandUK
  7. 7.INESC-IDInstituto Superior TécnicoLisbonPortugal
  8. 8.Institut fuer InformatikUniversitaet AugsburgAugsburgGermany
  9. 9.School of Maths and Computer ScienceHeriot-Watt UniversityEdinburghUK

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