When the Bystander Effect Could Help

Categories: The Bystander Effect

Many people try to be as helpful as they can to those around them, but studies show that your willingness to help could be dictated by the number of people around you. This is called the ‘Bystander Effect’, and it affects people in more ways than they may think. This ranges from a person’s willingness to help others in need, to decide whether or not to speak up in dire situations. Studies surrounding the ‘bystander effect’ have become more prevalent in the past few decades, following the murder of Kitty Genovese in 1964.

Despite this, many people may not know that it how it affects them every day.

On March 13, 1964, 28-year-old Kitty Genovese was walking home from work. When she arrived at her apartment entrance, she was met by a man, later identified as Winston Moseley, who began attacking her with a knife. This caused Kitty to begin yelling out in distress, hoping someone hears and come to help her. It was discovered that dozens of people were around that could have heard Kitty’s pleas, but it wasn’t until around a half an hour later that someone decided to call the police.

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Kitty later died from her injuries as she was unable to receive the treatment she needed in time. The reports of the event are all over the place, with some publications reporting that up to thirty-eight people were able to hear the yelling, while others report there were as few as one.

There have since been numerous cases similar to this one over the years, and psychologists have searched for the reason it may keep happening.

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One possible explanation is ‘diffusion of responsibility’. Diffusion of responsibility is the belief that in larger groups of people, someone may be less likely to help a person in need as they believe that someone else may step in instead. This is because someone may either believe that another person in the group may be more suitable to help, or they may just want to pass the burden to someone else. This can be seen in a variety of situations, from bullying to helping the homeless.

Another possible explanation is that people may not intervene if they don’t understand the situation. This may include situations of minor domestic disturbances, where some people may be less willing to intervene if they believe the situation isn’t inherently serious. This was brought to light with the video ‘What Happens When A Woman Abuses A Man In Public’ by BBC Three on YouTube. In the video, two actors pretend to be in an aggressive argument, with a man yelling at a woman. Through harsh speech and uncomfortable body language, seven people stepped in to stop the man. When the tables were turned, however, only one person steps in to stop the woman. Many people watched the situation as they walked by, but didn’t stop to step in. When asked why this was, many of them said that they believed that since the woman was yelling at the man, the man had done something wrong, and deserved what he was receiving.

Two social psychologists, John Darley and Bibb Lanaté, performed a series of experiments in an effort to better understand what influences bystander intervention. One of those experiments involved placing varying numbers of participants into a room and giving them a survey to fill out. While the participants were filling out the survey, Darley and Lanaté would begin filling the room with smoke, to see how many people would report it. They found that seventy-five percent of the participants would report the smoke if they were by themselves in the room, while only thirty-eight percent would report it if there were two or more people in the room.

These studies and events clearly show the concept of group behavior. The change of how a person would react when alone or in a group. Studies suggest that when there are fewer people around, a sort of non-personal bond is formed, while in groups, we tend to stick with the group we identify with. For example, if you come across a homeless person when you are alone, you may feel more obligated to help them out, as you may subconsciously put yourself in their shoes and feel bad for them. When you are in a group, however, you may distance yourself from them a bit. This could be your brain identifying you as ‘part of the group’, which may cause you to look at the homeless person as an outsider, making you feel less sympathy.

How the bystander effect affects us may also depend on our age and/or life experience. When we are younger, we are told to be nice to everyone and to treat others how we want to be treated. This philosophy may follow some people for years, while others may be conditioned later to think that they must do everything for themselves. We may be conditioned to the ‘every man for themselves’ mindset, which has a big effect on how willing we are to help others, both alone and in a group.

There is a way to break the bystander effect. Psychologists say the best way to break it is to understand that it is happening. You must realize what is keeping you from reacting to the situation. However, the psychologists also stress that it is important that you don’t put yourself in harm’s way. If you are the person in need of assistance, the best thing to do is single out a single person. Speak directly to them and make eye contact, this may make your request seem more personal and can make it more difficult for someone to walk away.

The bystander effect likely isn’t something that will go away any time soon. While interest and understanding of it have greatly increased over the past few decades, the effect itself has likely been around for thousands of years. It is a subconscious part of a lot of us and isn’t something that is taught. The best thing we can do from now own is to try to improve ourselves and work to break the social stigma that may come with helping those in need.

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When the Bystander Effect Could Help. (2021, Dec 26). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/when-the-bystander-effect-could-help-essay

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