Supposing you are walking on the streets, suddenly an accident happens. People begin to stop travelling and gather around the scene. You notice that everyone is aware of the accident, but no one offers help. Most of them just stand there watching the victims suffer. Some of you may immediately provide assistance to those who need help, but many of you will have a question in your mind: “Should I do something or should I walk away? Should I help them or leave it to someone else?” I bet all of you have at least once asked yourself that kind of question in that kind of situation. This phenomenon is called bystander effect.
“Would you help a stranger?”
What is bystander effect? According to Wikipedia, “bystander effect is a term for a social psychology phenomenon in cases where individuals do not offer help in an emergency situation when there other people are present”. (Source)
A special thing about this bystander effect is that: the more bystanders present when help is needed, the less assistance any of them will provide. In an experiment with voluntary participants carried out by Bibb Latane and John Darley, researchers conducted three conditions:
(1) Only one participant in one room.
(2) Two or three participants in one room.
(3) Two participants and two experimenters in one room.
As the participants sitting in the room and filling out questionnaires, researchers filled the room with smoke without telling the participants to create an emergency-like situation. They found that in condition (1), 75% of participants immediately took action by reporting about the smoke. In contrast, only 38% participants in condition (2) and 10% in condition (3) report the smoke to the researchers. (Source)
Social psychologists have shown that there are many reasons why bystanders don’t intervene in such situations:
– Social influence: Bystanders observe other people’s reactions to see if others think that it is necessary to interfere with the problems. Since all of them are just observing one another and taking no action, they finally think that help is not needed in the situation.
The experiment carried out by Latane and Darley I have discussed above is an example of this kind of reason. When participants were alone in one room, most of them took action when they saw smoke filling the room. When there were other people, the participants noticed the smoke but since the others didn’t react to the situation so they just thought that it was not really necessary to report the smoke.
– Bystanders think that someone else will do something to help, or that someone with better assistance, such as doctors or police, will interfere so their help is unnecessary.
(I just can’t insert the video clip right in this post. 😦 I don’t know why but if somebody could do it for me then I really appreciate your help! :-))
Bystanders could have stopped the fight by separating the girls instead of standing there encouraging them fight each other or waiting for the police to come.
– Ignorance / Unawareness of the situation: Bystanders don’t want to get involved in the situation because think that it is none of their business. Some people are just unsure of the situations or afraid of getting involved. Let’s discuss the case of Catherine Genovese to be clearer on this factor:
In the early morning of March 13, 1964, a woman named Catherine Genovese was brutally attacked as she went home from her working as a bar manager in New York city. The attacker, Winston Moseley – a serial rapist and murderer, ran after Genovese at the car park of her apartment and stabbed her in the back. Genovese screamed for help and she was heard by several neighbors. There was one man from a window nearby shouted at the attacker to leave her alone, yet no one actually came to help her. Being shouted at, the attacker ran away. Severely injured, Genovese slowly crept on the ground to find the entrance to her apartment building, but a locked door prevented her from going inside. Ten minutes later, Moseley came back to search for his victim, continued to stabbed her to death and raped her as she lay dying. Finally, after the attacker ran away, a neighbor of the victim called the police. Genovese was dead on the way to the hospital.
In the case of Genovese, many of the witnesses were unaware that she was being killed; they just thought that they heard a quarrel between lovers. Only one witness saw that she was stabbed at the first attack but there was still no help. (Source)
Bystander effect now is becoming an everyday problem. Just with a few clicks on the internet, we can find many pictures and clips of people fighting or horrifying accidents recorded by bystanders who didn’t take a “heroic” action to assist people in need but chose to record the moments for their own sakes! Going out on the streets, you can see people gathering an accident scene just because of their curiousity. How annoying that is, right?! Although this effect is like a natural reaction of people, I think we can surely help without being affected by the acts of other people. If you think someone needs help, give them a hand, don’t just walk away or wait for anybody else to do that or the one who is in need may end up like Catherine Genovese! 😦
Wrong! Don’t be a passively innocent bystander; you can be a hero too!
Afterword: I tried my best to write this essay; however, any borrowed sentence from the sources is put in quotation marks. If you find any problem with this essay please inform me. Thanks a lot for reading! :-).
– Images are from Google results.
– Video clip is from Youtube.
Name: Nguyễn Trần Hồng Đức