As you wait to cross the street, a blind man is standing in front of you. Without warning, he begins to cross the street even though the light has not changed in his favor. He seems to be in no danger until you see a car about a half mile away speeding towards him. Totally unaware of the situation, the man continues walking across the street. As you and many others watch in horror he is struck by the car. Although every single one of you had plenty of time to rescue him, you just watched, hoping that someone else would do it. After all, you don't know him so it's really none of your business. This is what is referred to as "bystander apathy". People close enough to see, hear and possibly touch one another are socially distant and totally indifferent to the fact that another human being may be dying, in immediate danger, or asking for help. This extremely sad urban problem is just that- a problem of cities. The likelihood of this occurring increases with the number of people present and it is probable that there will be many people to witness an event when it happens in high density cities. Urban sociologists, social psychologists, and criminologists have argued for years that the size of cities is directly related to the amount of "social pathology" they contain. The legal consequences are not severe. Unless an individual is a certified medical doctor, they have no obligation in Alberta to help anyone in need. So generally, they don't. The personal consequences may be more severe. Feelings of guilt and regret may follow an event, especially if it ends fatally or if the individual feels that they could have done something significant. Because of this, people attempt to convince themselves and others that they were justified in their inaction because "it wasn't their place", "I didn't want to do it alone", or "I didn't want to get involved." Excuses like this often stem from fears of being seen as abnormal, possible physical harm, public embarrassment, possible involvement in police procedures, lost work days and jobs, and other dangers. Urban people are very concerned with the way they appear to others. Anything that may separate them from the "in-group" of society is usually seen as too risky to take part in. And strangely enough, helping people in need is seen as one of these risks. A study was done on seminarian students to see how likely they were to stop for a young student in distress. As reviewed by Brenner and Levin, out of the total 40 that passed the distressed student, only 16 stopped to help. Before allowing the students to come upon the confederate in need, the experimenters presented students with either writings about job applications, or the Good Samaritan Parable. This proved to have no effect on the likelihood of the student offering to help. I find this somewhat perplexing; one would think that especially after being shown text about helping someone in need as being "the right thing to do" that they would stop because of the guilt that may plague them. But the study showed that the main factor determining the choice to stop was whether or not they were in a hurry. I personally doubt that there would be any repercussions for being late if the reason was helping a fellow seminarian in need. But this study proves that people think otherwise. It has also been proposed that territoriality and social distance may be good predictors of willingness to prevent criminal behaviours. As presented by Gillis and Hagan, the disorganization theorists (Simmel et al.) claim that the unwavering activity of urban areas results in psychological withdrawal from others as a way to avoid stimulation overload. People in cities are no more likely to help neighbors than complete strangers, but their "social accountability" holds them responsible for friends and family. According to Gillis and Hagan, people are more willing to intervene when the violation is against a person than when it is against property. This is most probable...
Bibliography: Gillis, A. R. and John Hagan. 1983. "Bystander Apathy and the Territorial Imperative" Sociological Inquiry 53(4): 449-460. Brenner, Arline R. and James M. Levin. 1973. "Off-Duty Policemen and Bystander "Apathy"" Journal of Police Science and Administration 1(1): 61-64. Darley, John M. and Bibb Latane. 1968. "Bystander Intervention in Emergencies: Diffusion of Responsibility" Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 8(4, PT1): 377-383
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