Methods, Design & Preliminary Findings


The NCSBIS is a survey-based study that offers a campus-wide needs assessment of student’s bystander experiences, attitudes, motivations, skills, and behaviors. The study was designed to expand the application of bystander intervention theory and research to prevent and reduce harm and lives lost to sexual assault, sexual harassment, intimate partner violence, unhealthy alcohol use, the misuse of non-prescription and prescription drugs, hate, bias and exclusion, and hazing among college student populations. The study will provide a more comprehensive understanding of the motivators and barriers to college student bystander intervention in preventing each of these social issues.


The WITH US Center for Bystander Intervention is a national research center established in honor of Carson Starkey, a Cal Poly student who died tragically during his first year on campus when his peers neglected to get him the help he desperately needed. As we see in many campus tragedies that result in serious harm or death, we are left wondering how no one present stepped in to help when it mattered most – this study will help expand and fill gaps in understanding the nuanced barriers and motivators to helping others.

Study Goals

The data gathered from this study is needed to assess and guide the development of effective bystander programs and communications that increase student bystander intervention-supportive attitudes, intentions, skills, and behaviors. This, in turn, benefits individual, group, organizational, and community health. Over time, this annual study will provide a national benchmark on college student bystander behavior and will inform guidance on improving prosocial bystander climates on college campuses. More broadly, our objectives through this study are to help college campuses:

Empower Skilled Bystanders

Students that intervene to prevent imminent harm, hold perpetrators accountable, and provide support to peers.

Improve Campus Safety

Advance equity, inclusion, belonging, and safety on campus through cultivating prosocial communities of care.

Aid Student Success

Support the well-being, academic success, and retention of students through graduation.

Develop Global Citizens

Foster compassionate community members that will thrive in communities and industries beyond graduation.



  • Study approved through Cal Poly IRB in partnership with Colleges of Public Health and Psychology
  • National sample of public and private colleges and universities across U.S.
  • 5,000 random sample of undergraduate students at each institution
  • Online survey distributed over email via personalized link
  • Non-respondent follow-ups and gift card incentives offered to boost response
  • Participants given 4 weeks to complete the survey
  • Instrument includes Likert scales, multiple-select, and open-ended items

Theoretical Foundations

Even “good” people exhibit bystander apathy. According to Latané and Darley’s situational model of helping, this is because the bystander intervention process is influenced by a variety of social-psychological and situational factors. These factors may vary depending on the type of issue witnessed, which highlights the importance of understanding the barriers associated with each type of issue.

According to the situational model of helping; bystanders must first
(1) notice the event,
(2) identify it as worthy of intervention,
(3) take responsibility for intervention,
(4) decide how to help, and finally,
(5) act to intervene.
Situational barriers at any of these steps may halt the bystander intervention process.

Failure to Notice Situation

When bystanders are otherwise occupied due to self-focus, sensory or social distractions or responsibilities, a Failure to Notice barrier stalls the bystander intervention process. If a student is busy or distracted, they may fail to notice that someone may need assistance.

Failure to Diagnose the Situation as Intervention Worthy

Due to a lack of knowledge or an ambiguous situation, bystanders may not define a situation as high-risk, or does not recognize another student is at-risk of harm/is being harmed. If the bystander is unaware of the negative impacts of the situation on their peer(s), they will not diagnose it as requiring intervention and will be unmotivated to act.

Failure to Take Responsibility

In a large group, a bystander assumes someone else will act, or has acted, and feels less responsible (diffusion of responsibility). Many bystanders believe responsibility lies with others, such as the party host, senior group members, or the victim’s or perpetrator’s friends. Other bystanders may not take responsibility because they lack empathy for the victim.

Lack of Skills

Bystanders may not know what to do or say to effectively intervene, even if they have identified the situation as intervention-worthy and are considering action. Skill deficits reveal the need for intentional training and practice beyond just raising awareness about the problem.

Audience Inhibition & Intervention Costs

Bystanders worry about what others will think about them and they weigh the potential ‘costs’ associated with offering help. These real or perceived costs inhibit the final step of the situational model of helping: taking action. Group norms may support inaction. Potential costs such as trouble with authorities, criticism, fear of losing friends or harming relationships, embarrassing self or others, retaliation, etc., may inhibit action.

Research Questions & Survey Segments

Bystander Situations & Perceptions: →How often are students witnessing these issues?
→Do students perceive these issues as a problem on campus?Bystander Attitudes:→Do students believe their peers should offer help to fellow students? Bystander Apathy: →When students witness these issues, are they offering help?  
Bystander Barriers: →What barriers are halting the helping process for students?  
Bystander Behaviors: →What actions did students take to offer help?  
Bystander Motivators: →What are the unique motivators involved?
→Do harm reduction policies like medical amnesty policies help?

Study Issues Defined

Bias, Exclusion, Discrimination

Comments and actions that suggest people from their group do not belong, are unwelcome, or are not expected to succeed; Party themes, jokes, and comments reflecting offensive group stereotypes; Blatant physical, spoken, or written acts of abuse, discrimination, harassment, retaliation, and/or intimidation directed at someone or their group.

Sexual Assault

Fondling or unwanted sexual touching; Forcing a victim to perform sexual acts such as oral sex or penetrating the offender's body; Penetration of the victim's body (rape) and attempted rape.

Sexual Harassment

When people are targets of unwanted sexual comments, gestures, or actions. Examples of sexual harassment include: Making suggestive or positive and negative comments about a person's body; Following and staring; Catcalling and sexual gestures/noises; Pranks of a sexual nature; Unsolicited, unwelcome, and unreciprocated sexual advances and touching; Harassment committed through electronic means (ex: sending via text or email unwelcome sexual content/images/requests); and Requiring sexual contact or sexual favors to get rewards or benefits.

Intimate Partner Violence

Violence that occurs in the context of an intimate (close) relationship (romantic, family, or friend). IPV includes: Physical violence (hitting, slapping, beating, burning, etc.); Sexual violence (rape or being forced to engage in undesired sexual acts); Emotional abuse (insults, intimidation, threats, controlling behavior, etc.); Property destruction as means of coercion, control, revenge, or punishment; Monitoring a person's whereabouts; Limiting a person's ability to see family and friends; Stalking; and Cyber-violence (harassment and violence committed through electronic means).

Unhealthy Alcohol Use

Drive under the influence; Have unsafe or unintended sex; Get into arguments and fights; Injure themselves or others or increases risk of such injuries; Damage property. Increases sexual assault risk; Leads to poor academic, athletic, or work performance; Leads to health, relationship, financial, or legal problems; Binge drinking (4-5 or more alcoholic drinks in a 2-hour period); and Drinking so much that you pass out or later do not remember what happened while you were intoxicated.


Drinking rituals; Being humiliated, yelled at or cursed at by other members; Exploitative activities such as personal servitude; Singing/chanting or wearing embarrassing clothing in a public situation; Enduring harsh weather conditions; Sleep deprivation; Only being allowed to associate with certain people; and Physical abuse including being beaten, tied up, or sexually violated.

Non-Prescription Drug Use

Use of non-prescription drugs: cocaine, "party drugs" (such as MDMA, Molly, Ecstasy, Special K), and marijuana/cannabis

Prescription Drug Use

Misuse of prescription painkillers and stimulants by students at your college. The misuse of prescription pain killers and stimulants means using these drugs in ways not intended by a prescribing doctor, including use by a person they were not prescribed to.

Mental Health Concerns
(Coming Soon)

Situations in which a person’s mental or emotional state can lead them to hurting themselves or others, affects work/school/personal relationships, or puts them at risk of being unable to care for themselves or function in a healthy manner. Mental health concerns can include observations of anxiety disorders, depression, eating disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, and suicidality.


Bystander Situations

Percentage of students that witnessed these issues in the past academic year:

Bystander Perceptions

Percentage of students that perceive these issues as a problem on campus:

Bystander Attitudes

Percentage of students that believe their peers should intervene to help others:

Bystander Apathy

Percentage of students that didn’t say or do anything to intervene:

Bystander Barrier: Failure to Notice the Situation

Percentage of students that reported a “Failure to Notice” barrier as a reason they did not intervene

Bystander Barrier: Failure to Diagnose the Situations as Intervention Worthy

Percentage of students that reported a “Failure to Diagnose” barrier as a reason they did not intervene:

Bystander Barriers: Failure to Take Intervention Responsibility

Percentage of students that reported a “Failure to Take Responsibility” barrier as a reason they did not intervene:

Bystander Barriers: Lack of Skills

Percentage of students that reported a “Lack of Skills” barrier as a reason they did not intervene:

Bystander Barriers: Audience Inhibition & Intervention Costs

Percentage of students that reported a “Audience Inhibition & Intervention Costs” barrier as a reason they did not intervene: