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Relations Between Parental Attachment, Empathy, and Bystander Help-Seeking Preference Following Peer Aggression

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Abstract

This study aimed to examine the complex relations between two known predictors of bystander decisions in bullying incidents—empathy and family contextual factors—and bystander help-seeking from two preferred choices (i.e., adults and peers). In particular, we examined the mediating role of cognitive and affective empathy on the relation between parental attachment and bystander help-seeking in 826 adolescents in the 6th and 9th grade (49.9% female) using four bullying/acts of aggression scenarios. Results indicated that affective, but not cognitive, empathy served as a partial mediator for the relationship in boys, suggesting that both empathy and the family context can play a role in bystander decisions to intervene. On the other hand, empathy did not serve as a mediator for girls, suggesting that girls do not need the added push of empathy in order to intervene in bullying situations. Results suggest emphasizing home-school collaboration for boys, in particular, in bullying prevention programs in order to maximize efforts of bystanders.

Highlights

  • For boys, parental attachment was directly related to both peer and adult help-seeking. Indirectly, parental attachment was related to adult help-seeking through affective empathy.

  • For girls, parental attachment was directly related to peer help-seeking, but not adult help-seeking. Parental attachment was also indirectly related to peer help-seeking through affective, but not cognitive empathy.

  • Developing socio-emotional competencies and skills, particularly affective empathy, familial interventions may provide students, especially boys, with the ability to engage in prosocial responses during bullying situations.

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Funding

This project was supported by Award No. 2016-R2-CX-0056, awarded by the National Institute of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. The opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of the Department of Justice.

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Correspondence to Jerica L. Knox.

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Knox, J.L., Gönültaş, S., Gibson, S.M. et al. Relations Between Parental Attachment, Empathy, and Bystander Help-Seeking Preference Following Peer Aggression. J Child Fam Stud 31, 2401–2411 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10826-022-02312-2

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