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Response to Bystander Effect, Prejudice, Aggression and Deterrence Theory Essay

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  1. The Bystander Effect states that the greatest number of bystanders who witness an emergency the less likely anyone of them will help. What are your views about the bystander effect?

            The phenomenon of the bystander effect became recognized and found its niche in social psychology studies after the murder of Catherine “Kitty” Genovese in 1964.  As it is one of the most shocking murders in the history, the emphasis on the psychological phenomenon that occurred in March 13, 1964 at about 3:15 am (Gado 2007) is overrated.

Trekking back to the murder of Genovese, we can note that at the very hour when the crime occurred people are still usually asleep.

According to the accounts on the incident, the victim did scream for help, and since it was a fatal assault, surely, the victim’s persistence to get some aid should not be doubted, -this screaming and shouting for help may cancel out the fact that the people in her proximity are still deeply asleep (as accounts say there are 38 witnesses to this murder), but at those very hours we need not further dig deeper to unravel the mysterious apathy of the witnesses all we need to do is take note of the time the assault happened; some of the witnesses may have actually heard the screams but still has the need to sleep to face a Saturday-workday ahead of them.

            We can complement this further with what Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs states; that the greatest need of an individual is his/her physiological needs in which sleeps or rest falls under. Moreover, since the violent scene broke the supposedly yet sleep-time’s peace, it is understandable that the witnesses had chosen not to leave the refuge of their homes, fearing that they could be the next victim. -the need for safety and security comes as the second priority in Maslow’s renowned pyramid model. These two needs therefore may have overridden any urges to be a hero or a Good Samaritan among the witnesses at those moments.

            The belief that occurs each time a “bystander effect” happens is that every witness thinks that someone else among the other witnesses is more capable to help. Let us simulate a likely scenario in observance of the theory: a 79 year old lady was tripped by a rock on a crowded and busy street. In an instance like this you may likely see that not only one person will rush in to help the old lady get back on her feet.

            A bystander effect though always has a chance to occur and cast its spell; to shroud a cloud of confusion that may blur the discerning of witnesses to response to an emergency. On one hand, some factors may actually trigger a witness’s or a bystander’s urge to help.

            First, the affinity or degree of relation the bystander has with the individual in need of help. This will define the innate will to help and would trigger a certain sense of responsibility on the bystander’s side to help that someone he/she knows or that someone whom he/she at least have something-in-common with (for example, supporting the same basketball team, someone in the same organization).

Second, would be the empathy factor that may come from one’s recalling of a previous experience that will move him/her to be of help. Third, would be the effect of mood and condition of a bystander (Bordens & Horowitz 1973), this however considers the ruling of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs over the urge to help base on mood.

  1. How can prejudice be reduced?

            Through quick referrence to a dictionary, prejudice would simply be defined as preconceived or  premature judgement. First, let us see the nature behind prejudice; according to the Gale Encyclopaedia of Psychology (2005), “People are not born prejudiced: many prejudices are formed against groups with which a person has never had any contact.” In basic analysis, we can then perceive that the existence of prejudice pre-requires innocence or even ignorance, -that one’s mind must be a pail that should be empty or yet has to be filled (by information and initially with opinions of other people).

            Through interaction and communication with other individuals, one would naturally absorb the prejudices of another individual he/she gets contact with. According to the communication model (Laswell 1948); in every communication process there is the presence of: 1) a source, 2) a message, 3) a channel, 4) a receiver, 5) an effect, and 6) a feedback.

Applying this process in tracing the development of prejudice, if an individual has yet zero knowledge or background towards a subject, as a receiver of a message he/she had to undergo the next step of the process, which is the effect. The effect here now since the receiver is yet an ’empty pail’ would be to digest the message, and if the message transmitted is prejudiced it will pour a content in that empty pail that may soon serve as the receiver’s raw material in generating his/her own prejudices. In psychology, this model resembles the social cognition pattern which likewise explains the development of prejudice.

             If we are to reduce prejudice, the direct equation we can derive from Laswell’s Model would be to reduce the interaction and communication with other individuals. This in reality however, is improbable as communication being both infinite and spontaneous processes cannot be reduced in terms of amount. The number of communication sources can forcibly be reduced but the messages that a receiver had already received will continue to develop and be repeatedly analysed in his/her mind which then will be used by him/her when it’s his/her turn to communicate as a speaker.

            Prejudiced beliefs lead to stereotyping, which are natural tendencies to categorise the world in order to make sense of it (NAT.org 2003). In an attempt to make the complex world organized as we perceive it, we tend to put labels on objects, events, and individuals that has same characteristics which send to us stimuli that are alike.

            A means to reduce stereotyping and generalization as dictated by prejudice is to expose a prejudiced person to individuals capable of dispelling it (Gale Encyclopedia2005), these individuals include those that contradict the stereotypes. This approach to reduce and neutralize stereotyping, though somewhat indirect, will help in thawing whatever barriers prejudices had formed within one’s disposition which eventually is good, as sooner or later this prejudiced person will have the chance to interact with a person who belongs to a grouped he/she had stereotyped.

            In the treatment to reduce prejudice in the form of stereotyping, immersion could be a vital antidote. In the same manner as Edward Said’s Travel Theory (1983), a culture or an idea (which in some cases can be a prejudiced idea) is bound to loose its original potency, its strength, and even its form as it gets contact with other cultures.   A stereotype can likewise be tamed; if the ignorance and the innocence where it was founded over will finally be bridged by discovering the truth (which may include interacting with the people whom you had a stereotype on) -this first-hand, actual, and direct encounter will not just reduce prejudice but also dispel it.

            More than the more common but not-at-all easily done idea; to be open—minded, interaction would be the best achievable solution in reducing stereotypes.

  1. Write a two-page essay in which you describe Freud’s theory on aggression. Additionally, describe Bandura’s theory on aggression and what strategies would he recommend using to diminish aggressive behaviour. Do you think that aggression is innate or learned? Why?

            Sigmund Freud explained that the theory of aggression begins at the early ages when a boy begins to develop his intimate relationship with his mother, being the natural provider and nurturing entity for the boy -this intimate relationship will come to a point that the boy will have sexual desires for his mother. In the family picture however, there is the presence of the father -whom the boy will ‘treat’ as his rival in getting his mother’s affection and attention. But eventually, the boy will realize that he can’t win over his father, as the chances of winning in physical terms is impossible due the boys inferior size, the boy will concede is this competition and soon will realize that his mother is not a suitable object of love and sexual urges (cited in Freud & Smith 1999).

            This sexual-desire idea is called the Oedipus complex; while as for the girls, they also undergo the same condition and it is termed Electra complex. Freud claims that these are manifestations of the modifiers that dictate human behaviour; instinct and sexual urges called libido. Libido is energy derived from the Eros, or life instinct (cited in Freud & Smith 1999). Aggression is the outcome when the urges of libido are not released.

            Eros, is present in every man, so as what Freud had introduced thereafter; the concept of Thanatos or death force. This energy from this death force seeks to deliver death and destruction, which also bounds a man to destroy his own self. Thanatos does not entirely pour its energy towards self-destruction, some of which are channelled to other objects and individuals which explains the presence of aggression.

            Even before technology, liberal thinking, and advance science, and even before the man who gave name to the concept was born, the world had abide with the ‘survival of the fittest’. Scientist Charles Darwin used the phrase to term the endless struggle of beings against one another for existence. The energy from Thanatos may support what sends a being to take aggression upon another.

            Bandura (1973) claimed that human behaviour is determined by the environment. Likewise man’s behaviour also dictates his environment.  This means that a man learns his aggression on what he perceives on his environment, while with the presence of aggression or the absence of it around, affects what the environment will become.

            Bandura’s approach in dealing with and along the process diminishing behaviour is through self-regulation or simply to control one’s own behaviour. This begins with self-observation (watching and analyzing our own behaviours), then with judgement (setting a standard or an ideal measure were we can compare our behaviours with and pattern it to them), and finally with self-response (your manner of affirming yourself whether you are satisfied or not with what was your behaviour in a particular occasion).

            Aggression is innate to man, I agree for solid reasons. First, I would refer to what Abraham Maslow (1954) refer as the second immediate need; safety and security.  From which threats do we seek protection against? Harsh weather? -We got our concrete homes and thick winter suits. Wild Animals? That’s what technology and urbanization is for, putting the dangerous forage-and-hunt lifestyle locked in oblivion, then what?

The best answer would be human threats -which are manifestations of the presence of aggression in man. Second; man is the superior specie of all but we are still classifiable as animals -beings which are programmed from birth to seek, hunt and fight for survival. An aspect of aggression is learned by man but this mainly covers the manners of aggression; like the idea of how to use weapons and sub due impending opponents.

  1. What is deterrence theory? Why do people commit crimes?

            Punishments are pre-emptive instruments set by established laws and rules meant to discourage and intimidate would-be offenders. An ever-existing idea based on what is called the Deterrence theory. “Deterrence theory is based on the concept that, if the consequence of committing a crime outweighs the benefit of the crime itself, the individual will be deterred from committing the crime”. (Summerfield, 2006, p. 1).

            By default, deterrence theory lies on the fear a punishment can instil to the subjects of a law.     Ideally, a law applies to everyone in a state; both the government and the subjects. But in reality, since deterrence theory was put to practice in an organized-society nation, it has revealed some serious flaws in itself.

            Write Morgan Summerfield traced the origin of the deterrence theory -stemming out the roots of its practice from old England from the Dark Ages, Feudal Era, the Tudor period, when feudal lords, kings, and queens, where the first to introduce the system of punishment.

            Although crimes at that era meant heavy punishment, as Summerfield would collectively describe as “brutal” and “severe”, an individual’s economic status would determine his vulnerability to the legal consequences of the crime; “Someone wealthy or influential could often commit offences with impunity, while someone of lesser birth would be severely punished for the same offence.”

            Between this statement’s lines lies an implication; the power of money, and the call to have it, which is avarice, is also ‘encouraged’.   Money, power, and influence has been the bridges to punishment-evasion several centuries ago. These gives definition to deterrence theory as the imperfect concept where present laws and subjects-controlling policies are taken from.

            The answer to the question why do people commit crimes lies in the failures of deterrence theory. By default, law enforcers assume that making it known to the people that crimes are met with punishments is not enough.

            First reason; not every criminal are caught, hence the crime = penalty equation is not absolute. Second, every criminal does not have the same level of fear; the fear variable is defined by how ‘hard’ the criminal/law offender is (a repeatedly imprisoned individual may not fear the conditions of being in jail as much as a first-time convict would. Third would be how able the criminal is in protecting/saving himself/herself from the legal repercussions of the crime.

            If we are to directly relate the question why do people commit crimes with the fear-dependent deterrent theory, we can conclude that the discrepancy of fear among the subjects of a law do explains why not all individuals are stopped by impending punishments and thus, go on and commit crimes.

            Another premise that may explain why do people commit crimes is the existence of free will; “When they act in a criminal manner, they do so out of free will and weigh the consequences of their actions—they know what they are doing and choose to do it” (Summerfield 2006).  Along with it is the belief of Chinese Philosopher, Kong Zi (Xun-Zi) that man is by nature evil. -reflected in the oldest book of all time, the Bible, in the chapter of Genesis where the first man used its free will to ignore the rule set by God in the Garden of Eden.

            Kong Zi meanwhile acknowledges too that man is capable of doing good; but for a man to do a good act it has to be done consciously. The society’s means of increasing man’s awareness and sensitivity to do conscious good acts, to teach what is right and to do right is by establishing institutions  (schools, churches) to teach norms, and make laws and policies (to assure that the norms are followed).  -Which brings us to an uncomplicated cycle; the “naturally evil” man is straightened out and taught what is good being covered by different laws and policies which is based from the deterrence theory.

On a research done by Richard Lebow and Janice Stein (1995), they claimed that

Deterrence theory rarely succeeds. Although their work underwent ‘waves’ of criticisms and was thoroughly scrutinized for gaps and flaws, the spirit of deterrence theory, which is carried over by the laws in present time seems to testify on the findings of Lebow and Stein.


Contributors: Bandura, A. (1973). Aggression: A Social Learning Analysis. p. 183. Englewood Cliffs, NJ. Prentice-Hall.

Bordens, K. Sm, Horowtiz, I, A.(Eds.). (2001) Social Psychology (second edition). Lawrence    Erlbaum Associates

Gado, M. (2007) A Cry in the Night: The Kitty Genovese Murder  Retrieved February 26, 2008 from Crime Library, Courtroom Television Network, LLC.

Gale Group, (2001). Gale Encyclopaedia of Psychology, 2nd Ed..  Retrieved February 27, 2008

from http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_g2699/is_0002/ai_2699000270

Huitt, W. (2006). Social cognition. Educational Psychology Interactive. Valdosta, GA: Valdosta            State University. Retrieved February 28, 2008 from         http://chiron.valdosta.edu/whuitt/col/soccog/soccog.html.

Jervis, R., Lebow, R., Stein, (Eds.). (1985) Psychology and Deterrence . Baltimore: The Johns   Hopkins Press,

Laswell, H.D., (1948). “The structure and function of communication in society -in the communication of ideas, ed. Bryson, L. New York: Harper.

Maslow, A (1954). Motivation and Personality.

NAT.org. (February 2003). The Psychology of Prejudice Retrieved February 28, 2008 from        http://www.e-alliance.ch/media/media-4301.pdf.

Said, E. W. (1983) “Travelling Theory,” The World, the Text, and the Critic.

            Cambridge: Harvard   University Press.

Smith, A. K. (1999) Theories of Aggression. Biology 202: 1999 Final Web Reports-Biology.      Retrieved February 28, 2008 from Serendip database.

Summerfield, M. (2006). Evolution of Deterrence Crime Theory, a journey with an End. Retrieved             February 27, 2008 from Associated Content, Inc.

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