Reactions to Actions: Exploring How Types of Bystander Action Are Linked to Positive and Negative Consequences

Elizabeth A. Moschella, Victoria L. Banyard

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Sexual and dating violence (SDV) are growing public health problems in the United States. Prevention programs have sought to engage potential bystanders so they can safely and effectively intervene in situations involving SDV. However, the ability of these programs to prepare bystanders may be limited if they do not address the possible outcomes of their actions. Few studies have examined positive and negative consequences of bystander action, and only one has examined how various types of action impact these consequences. The purpose of our study was to explore how specific types of bystander actions and their number of actions were related to positive and negative consequences. We recruited participants (N = 615) through Amazon’s Mechanical Turk and a university subject pool, all of whom were between the ages of 18 and 24. Participants described the type of action they took in response to risk for SDV (i.e., harassing comments, dating violence, unwanted sexual advances, and controlling behavior). We performed a content analysis on participants’ written responses about the type of action taken. New measures of bystander consequences were used to examine bystander feelings and reactions of others (e.g., the victim, perpetrator). A range of action types were identified (i.e., direct, distract, distance, delegate, and physical action). Of note, direct action toward the perpetrator was related to more negative feelings and responses, whereas distract and distance action were associated with more positive feelings and responses from others. Further, taking multiple actions (as opposed to a single one) was related to more positive feelings and responses from others. Implications for research and practice are discussed, with a specific focus on prevention programming.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)585-602
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Primary Prevention
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


  • Bystander consequences
  • Bystander intervention
  • Dating violence
  • Sexual assault


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