Psychology: The Bystander Effect - What Would You Do?

Strongly based on the number of bystanders witnessing the attack the Bystander Effect is a social psychological phenomenon where the presence of other people reduces helping behavior to the victim of the attack so much so that none of the bystanders provide any help in the emergency situation.

Reasons why the Bystander Effect seems to occur include the more bystanders there are the less likely any one of them will notice the reality of the situation taking place, assume responsibility for taking action to help the victim, or even notice the emergency as being a real problem, which is the first step necessary for a bystander to intervene, with the cause of this reaction possibly being attributable to the fact that most people are raised to believe it is impolite to stare at another person in public and keep their attention to themselves.

According to the basic principle of social influence that states conformity is the act of matching beliefs, behaviors, and attitudes of the individual to the unspoken and implicit norms of the group that guide their interactions with other people bystanders will typically monitor the reactions of other people in an emergency to see if they believe intervention on behalf of the victim is necessary, which is a classic example of social proof, another psychological phenomenon in which people will assume others actions in order to reflect correct behavior in a given situation.

The sociopsychological phenomenon known as diffusion of responsibility, in which a person is less likely to offer the victim any assistance in the presence of others because they erroneously believe other group members are responsible for taking action and so they do not for several reasons that may include the perceived fear of losing face in front of other bystanders, or they may believe others are more qualified to help the victim, or that their assistance is unwanted by the victim, or that there are others in the group better qualified to help, or they are afraid of possible legal consequences for providing inferior assistance to the victim.

Several famous examples of Bystander Effect include 2 year old Axel Casian in the Turlock, California area, who on June 16, 2008 was methodically stomped to death by his father on a county road while family members, friends, strangers, and a Volunteer Fire Chief stood by doing nothing to help the boy, and probably the most highly recognized case of Bystander Effect on record, Kitty Genovese in Queens, New York, who on March 16, 1964 was stabbed to death by a serial rapist and murderer while screaming for help for at least 30 minutes, including first being attacked, having the killer scared off by a neighbor of the victim, only to return 10 minutes later to finish the attack although about 38 bystanders witnessed the act and failed to offer any help to the woman. This is also the case that began social psychological research in the arena of the Bystander Effect.

The Bystander Effect - what would you do?


Howard D.

School Teacher, Army Veteran, and International Author Tutors All Ages

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