Honors Program


Document Type


Date of this Version

Spring 3-12-2023


Miller, Alec J. (2023). What Would You Be Feeling? An Exploration into the Relationship between Emotions and Bystander Intervention to Reduce Sexual Assault. Undergraduate Honors Thesis. University of Nebraska-Lincoln.


Copyright Alec Miller 2023.


Bystander intervention is thought to be an important strategy to reduce sexual assault toward women, and identifying predictors of bystander intervention may be key to developing effective protocols to increase bystander intervention in sexual risk situations. The dominant theoretical models of bystander intervention in the field primarily focus on cognitive decision-making while there has been less focus on emotional reactions as predictors of bystander intervention. Yet emotions, especially negative emotions, can motivate behavior that may relieve the negative emotions that were provoked by witnessing sexual assault. Thus, the purpose of this study was to fill these critical gaps in the literature; specifically, we sought to describe the different emotional reactions to witnessing a sexually risky situation between a male perpetrator and female victim as well as examine the connections between emotional reactions and bystander intervention. We used an existing dataset of 498 participants from Amazon’s Mechanical Turk. First, the participants viewed a written vignette that depicted a low or high sexual risk situation. All participants then responded to an open-ended question about their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors in this situation. A team of three undergraduates analyzed the participants’ text reactions for emotions, the use of adverbs qualifying the emotions, and the targets of the emotions. Our hypotheses were that those who are in the high-risk condition would express more emotions overall than those in the low-risk condition, those who expressed emotion would be more likely to also have expressed intervention behaviors, higher certainty emotions would have stronger associations with intervention variables, and those who qualified their responses with adverbs would be more likely to also intervene. The first hypothesis was partially supported; those in the low-risk condition were more likely to express no emotion. The second hypothesis was fully supported; there was a significant association between expressing emotion and a continuous intervention variable. The third hypothesis was partially supported because upset and indifference were the only emotions to have a significant association with intervention. The fourth hypothesis was partially supported as those who used minimizing adverbs had a lower mean score on the continuous intervention variable, and those who used emphasizing adverbs had a higher score on the continuous intervention variable, while the association between adverb usage overall and intervention was null. Significant associations were found between specific emotions and intervention strategies, and intention to intervene in exploratory analyses. Limitations, implications, and future directions will be discussed.