Health and risk behaviors of bystanders: An integrative theoretical model of bystanders’ reactions to mistreatment

Yariv Itzkovich, Ella Barhon, Rachel Lev-Wiesel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article constructs a comprehensive theoretical model that outlines bystanders’ emotional and behavioral responses to the mistreatment of adolescent peers. The model captures bystanders’ risk and health risk behaviors, which have been overlooked in the context of their re-actions; when addressed at all in connection with bystanders of bullying among adolescents, they have been treated separately. Here, we present bystanders’ emotional and cognitive reactions and their impact on bystanders’ responses including a set of responses that demonstrate risk and health risk behaviors that are directed to the bystander as a victim by proxy. The theoretical framework is the conservation of resources theory, which posits that personal resources (i.e., potency and moral disengagement) and social resources impact the process that leads to bystanders’ reactions. Previous models have overlooked the integrative viewpoint of bystanders, and comprehensive models that explain bystanders’ behavioral and emotional responses have received little attention especially with regards to adolescents. Two recent models overlooked core features embedded in the current model, including the risk and health risk behaviors that it integrates. The proposed model presents a novel and more comprehensive view of bystanders’ reactions and the process underlying these reactions. It integrates existing knowledge embedded in other existing models. At the same time, this perspective indicates the centricity of potency as a key resource that dictates the emotional response and behaviors of bystanders. This potentially allows for new applications in the mitigation of adverse impacts that follow the witnessing of mistreatment. The article discusses these applications, which are based on previous findings, their implications for practice, and directions for future empirical research necessary to validate the model.

Original languageEnglish
Article number5552
JournalInternational Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health
Issue number11
StatePublished - 1 Jun 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 by the authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland.


  • Adolescents’ risk and health risk behaviors
  • Bystanders’ responses
  • Conservation of resources theory
  • Mistreatment
  • Moral disengagement
  • Potency
  • Theoretical model

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pollution
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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