The Miami Dolphins scandal raises questions about the role bystanders who may witness bullying can play, said Amanda B. Nickerson, Ph.D., director of the Alberti Center for Bullying Abuse Prevention at the University at Buffalo.
"We are increasingly looking at the power of the bystander, or the people who witness bullying and harassment, and their role," said Nickerson, who emphasized she was not commenting directly on the ongoing controversy in which Dolphin Richie Incognito allegedly repeatedly hazed teammate Jonathan Martin, but rather the instances and ongoing problem of bullying abuse in general.
"We know that bystanders have a powerful influence on reinforcing the behavior (making it more likely to occur) or reducing the behavior or its negative impact by telling the perpetrator to stop, banding together as a group to say it is not going to be tolerated, reporting it or reaching out to provide support to the target," she said.
Nickerson, who has been director of the UB center since 2011, and has been a frequent expert on national and regional news broadcasts, said bullying, which she defined as a repeated pattern of intentionally aggressive behavior intended to cause physical and/or psychological harm toward a target where there is an imbalance of power, is common in schools. But the same behavior also frequently occurs in many other settings.
"We know that bullying can occur as young as preschool and can continue into adulthood," Nickerson said. "Unfortunately, in the workplace, the outcome is often employees leaving the hostile environment."
Nickerson is available to discuss bullying research and available remedies for the person who has become the object of this abuse, as well as the person acting out this aggressive behavior. Requests can be made by contacting Charles Anzalone in UB's office of communications at 716-645-4600.