This Is AuburnElectronic Theses and Dissertations

A Longitudinal Study of Defender Identity, Defending Behavior, and Peer Victimization in Childhood




Winter, Madison

Type of Degree

Master's Thesis


Human Development and Family Science

Restriction Status


Restriction Type

Auburn University Users

Date Available



Research has shown the importance and benefit of children being willing to defend peers who are the target of peer victimization. Currently, little is known about the influence of having a defender identity on defending behaviors. This study addressed this gap in the literature by testing whether having a stronger defender identity predicts heightened defending behaviors. Furthermore, as being seen as a defender may decrease the likelihood that a child will be peer-victimized, this research examined whether a defender identity may be protective against peer victimization by increasing the likelihood of defending others. This study utilized an existing longitudinal data set collected during the Fall, Winter, and Spring of children’s fourth or fifth-grade year (760 girls and 804 boys; Mage = 10.05 years). Self-reports of defending behaviors, empathy, and self-efficacy for defending and peer-reports of defending behaviors and peer victimization were collected. A full structural equation model (SEM) was estimated to examine the direct effects of a defender identity on defending behaviors and the indirect effects on peer victimization. There are known differences in defending behaviors between boys and girls; therefore, gender was also tested using a multigroup analysis to determine if a defender identity predicted heightened defending behaviors more strongly for boys than for girls. Results showed that having a stronger defender identity predicted heightened levels of defending behaviors. Further, heightened defending behaviors mediated the relationship between defender identity and lower levels of peer victimization. No gender differences in these associations were found. This research underscores the importance of cultivating children’s identity as a defender in bullying situations and points to new directions for anti-bullying interventions.