Abstract: Social Norms and Bystander Intentions: Testing the Theory of Normative Social Behavior in the Context of Sexual Violence Prevention (Society for Prevention Research 27th Annual Meeting)

203 Social Norms and Bystander Intentions: Testing the Theory of Normative Social Behavior in the Context of Sexual Violence Prevention

Wednesday, May 29, 2019
Pacific A (Hyatt Regency San Francisco)
* noted as presenting author
Whitney Rostad, PhD, Behavioral Scientist, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, GA
Lindsay Orchowski, PhD, Assistant Professor, Brown University, Providence, RI
Mohamed Mazheruddin Mulla, MA, Doctoral Student, Brown University, Providence, RI
Introduction: Bystander intervention is one approach to preventing sexual violence (SV). Whereas the social psychological theory explaining factors that inhibit or promote bystander behavior is well-developed, research is needed to understand the mechanisms that facilitate bystander interventions to address SV. According to the Theory of Normative Social Behavior (TNSB), perceptions about the prevalence of a behavior (i.e., descriptive norms) affect individuals’ own behavior through the interaction with normative mechanisms, including perceptions about the acceptability of behavior (i.e., injunctive norms) and outcome expectations. While normative mechanisms may directly influence behaviors, they may also heighten the influence of descriptive norms on behaviors. Research has yet to examine the role of descriptive and injunctive norms on intentions to engage in bystander behavior to address SV among youth.

Methods: This study uses baseline survey data from a randomized trial of a bystander program among 10th grade high school students (n = 2,707, Mage = 15.4). Two-level regression models accounting for school cluster were conducted to examine associations between descriptive and injunctive norms and bystander intentions, controlling for demographic characteristics and potential barriers and facilitators to bystander behavior. Analyses also tested whether different mechanisms interacted with descriptive norms to influence bystander intentions.

Preliminary Results: Most variables were significantly related to bystander intentions. Specifically, descriptive norms were related to bystander intentions (β = 2.06, p = .04) as were injunctive norms related to friends (β = 4.55, p < .001), students (β = 2.22, p = .03), and teachers (β = 5.97, p < .001). Perceiving teen dating violence (TDV) behaviors as more abusive (β = 11.11, p < .001) and perceiving fewer barriers to helping (β = -4.48, p < .001) were also related to greater bystander intentions. Further, perceptions of TDV abuse (β = -3.29, p = .001), school connectedness (β = -2.76, p = .006), and injunctive norms related to friends (β = -2.44, p = .02) and teachers (β = -2.45, p = .01) significantly moderated the relationship between descriptive norms and bystander intentions.

Conclusions: Findings support the application of TNSB to SV prevention and highlight the importance of perceptions of peer and teacher attitudes, personal perceptions about abuse, and school connectedness as influential to the relationship between descriptive norms and bystander intentions among youth. Incorporating exercises that address perceived social norms into existing bystander intervention training programs may enhance program effects, consistent with the evidence presented in CDC’s STOP SV technical package.