Date of Award

2016

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Psychology

First Advisor

Charles Collyer

Abstract

The aim of the current research is to understand how different perspectives in a violent event can affect empathy, violence sensitivity, and word usage. Participants (N=289 University of Rhode Island undergraduate students) were randomly assigned to the perspective (victim, bystander, and perpetrator) and media by which they learned about a violent event (watching a video or reading a news article), and were asked to answer a few open-ended questions about the event, followed by a short survey. Results showed that for the words in the categories of negative emotion, anger, first person pronoun, and affective process, participants assigned to the perpetrator and victim perspectives used the words at a similar rate, and participants in the bystander perspective used the words of these categories less. Participants who watched the video used more words in the personal pronoun (first, second, and third person pronoun), first person pronoun (e.g., I, me), and negative emotion categories. Results did not show differences between the groups for the subscales of empathy, and for the categories of violence sensitivity. Separate ANCOVAS suggested group differences based on perspective in violence severity for physical violent behaviors, and group differences based on media in violence severity for nonphysical violent behaviors. There were also main effects for perspective and media on violence sensitivity total. Participants assigned to the bystander perspective who watched the video clip were less violence sensitive. Finally, there was a significant correlation between empathy total and violence sensitivity total. Overall, results suggest that bystanders perceive events differently than perpetrators and victims, and participants who read are more violence sensitive and empathetic. The results of this study could be applied in the development of bystander intervention and violence prevention programs.

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