Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Type



Eberly College of Arts and Sciences


Sociology and Anthropology

Committee Chair

Joshua M. Woods

Committee Co-Chair

Rachel E. Stein

Committee Member

Jesse S. Wozniak


Researchers have proposed a number of theories to explain how violence becomes normalized and thereby increases the incidence of violent acts. This study explores these theories using the case of interpersonal violence on the campus of a large, Mid-Atlantic university. During the 2012-2013 academic school year, undergraduate participant observers witnessed 150 altercations, and gave detailed descriptions of when and where each altercation occurred, who was involved in them, and what consequences resulted. They also described their thoughts and feelings as they witnessed the physical altercation. Some witnesses reported experiencing fear, distress and sorrow, others experienced no adverse cognitions or emotions, while still others felt amused or entertained. Using bivariate and multivariate analyses, we examined several variables that may explain why the witnesses' psychological reactions varied. These included the gender and age of the witnesses, the extent of physical injury to the fighters, as well as several situational variables such as the time and place of the altercation and the social composition of the bystanders. The study showed that psychological reactions to college fighting were explained by individual, trait-based differences between the witnesses, as well as by variation in the specific situations where the altercations occurred. Drawing on dispositional and situational perspectives, a theory of normal violence is proposed.