Study Explores How Students Are Likely to Respond to Racism

Students studying for testFactors such as age and ethnicity may affect how students say they will respond to a hypothetical scenario involving racism at school, according to a study published in the Journal of Community & Applied Social Psychology.

Researchers found that as students got older, they were less likely to proactively respond to racism. White students in particular showed a marked decline in willingness to respond to racism as they aged.

Previous research has also found white students may be less inclined to respond to abuse affecting students of color. For example, a study that presented white female college students with a hypothetical scenario involving a student at risk of rape found that students were less likely to intervene when the woman at risk was black.

Race, Age, and Bystander Responses to Racism

The study involved a racially mixed group of 1,100 adolescents ages 12-15 in the United Kingdom. Participants reviewed a written scenario involving verbal racism at school, and then shared how they would respond to the situation. Responses fell into three categories: prosocial attempts to help; passively ignoring the racism; and aggression, such as getting into a physical altercation.

Young teens were more likely than older teens to attempt to help and least likely to become aggressive. Older teens were more likely to become aggressive. White students’ willingness to intervene decreased as they got older, but minority students became more likely to intervene.

Students who had friends from different racial or ethnic groups were more likely to constructively intervene and less likely to remain passive or become aggressive. Minority students socialized to a strong ethnic identity were also more likely to intervene in a prosocial way.

Implications for Bullying Intervention Efforts

Intervention programs for bullying, including race-based bullying, often focus on getting bystanders to stop ignoring bullying or to report it. The research suggesting race and age can affect bystander behavior could have implications for adults working to stop bullying and discrimination in school settings.


Palmer, S. B., Cameron, L., Rutland, A., & Blake, B. (2017). Majority and minority ethnic status adolescents’ bystander responses to racism in school. Journal of Community & Applied Social Psychology. doi:10.1002/casp.2313

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  • pEnElOpE

    June 13th, 2017 at 3:15 PM

    It makes me happy to know that there are still those who help you believe in the good in this world. Sure there are bad people but most of the time for every single yuck person out there you will find another who is more than willing to break the mold and help you find something good about humanity in general. Our kids are all starting at younger ages to see how racism and bullying can be very hurtful to those who are on the receiving end and I think that they are actually our last best hope for turning this world into what we or most of us aspire for it to be.

  • Barry

    June 17th, 2017 at 9:30 AM

    I have always hoped that I would be able to step up and help someone out if I saw that they were being bullied but it can be a tough call when you don’t know if physically you are going to be at risk of being harmed too.

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