Behavioral and functional connectivity basis for peer-influenced bystander participation in bullying

Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci. 2019 Jan 4;14(1):23-33. doi: 10.1093/scan/nsy109.


Recent studies have shown that the reactions of bystanders who witness bullying significantly affect whether the bullying persists. However, the underlying behavioral and neural mechanisms that determine a peer-influenced bystander's participation in bullying remain largely unknown. Here, we designed a new 'catch-ball' task where four players choose to throw a sequence of normal or strong (aggressive) balls in turn and examined whether the players (n = 43) participated in other players' bullying. We analyzed behaviors with a computational model that quantifies the tendencies of a participant's (i) baseline propensity for bullying, (ii) reactive revenge, (iii) conformity to bullying, and (iv) capitulation to threat and estimated these effects on the choice of balls. We found only conformity had a positive effect on the throwing of strong balls. Furthermore, we identified a correlation between a participant's conformity and social anxiety. Our mediation analysis of resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging revealed that there were significant relationships of each participant's functional connectivity between the amygdala and right temporoparietal junction (TPJ) and social anxiety to the participant's conformity to bullying. We also found that amygdala-TPJ connectivity partially mediated the relationship between social anxiety and conformity. These results highlighted the anxiety-based conformity and amygdala network on peer-influenced bystander participation in bullying.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Amygdala / diagnostic imaging
  • Amygdala / physiology
  • Anxiety / psychology
  • Brain Mapping
  • Bullying / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Models, Psychological
  • Neural Pathways / diagnostic imaging
  • Neural Pathways / physiology
  • Parietal Lobe / diagnostic imaging
  • Parietal Lobe / physiology
  • Peer Group*
  • Peer Influence*
  • Social Behavior*
  • Social Conformity
  • Temporal Lobe / diagnostic imaging
  • Temporal Lobe / physiology
  • Young Adult