Social Psychology of Education

, Volume 10, Issue 1, pp 5–28 | Cite as

A classmate in distress: schoolchildren as bystanders and their reasons for how they act

  • Robert Thornberg


Research has shown that bystanders more often fail to or are slower to help a victim in emergency when there are other bystanders than when there are not. The study presented in this paper is a qualitative case study with a focus on students’ own reasons why they do not help a classmate in emergency when there are other children witnessing the emergency situation in the real-life classroom case studied. Grounded theory methods were used to analyse the data. The individual conversations with the students indicated a variety of definitions of the specific distress situation when they recalled and talked about the classroom incident. During the process of the analysis seven concepts of definitions associated with passive or non-intervention bystander behaviour were constructed and grounded in the empirical material: trivialisation, dissociation, embarrassment association, busy working priority, compliance with a competitive norm, audience modelling, and responsibility transfer. Relations between these concepts of definitions were also analysed. However, this study is a first step and a first report from an ongoing study about school children as helper and bystander.


bystander effect helping behaviour prosocial behaviour distress schoolchildren students values education moral education 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Robert Thornberg
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Behavioural Sciences and learningLinköping UniversityLinköpingSweden

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