The Bystander Effect

Topics: Bystander effect, Psychology, Crowd psychology Pages: 9 (3347 words) Published: December 5, 2010
When the terms feelings, thoughts, and behavior are brought up, one does not automatically think these are quantifiable variables. To social psychologist, these words make up the basis of their studies. Trends have also been studied, tested, and analyzed as a way to understand the outcome of actions. They study what one is feeling, how those emotions are affecting that person’s thoughts, and how, or if, those thoughts become incentives or something that produces an action. Together, those analyses’ make up behavioral trends. Sociologists have been studying behavioral trends for decades, especially how people react in groups to a situation or stimulus. Researchers do not only study the behavior of people in a certain group but also how they act, as a whole, in society or within a culture. Psychologists have come to find that the way a person acts influences others either positively or negatively. Behavior, above all other things, describes why the bystander effect happens.

In 1968, Bibb Latané and John Darley were the first to demonstrate the bystander effect. Darley and Latané arrived at the conclusion that the number of people within an area influences the likelihood of intervention during an emergency (Latané and Darley, 1968). Emergency, in this definition, refers to a number of situations such as a murder, someone that is homeless, or a person being ridiculed or discriminated against. It could be a person that was hit by an automobile or a child that was abandoned from a car and left to walk home. The bystander effect also influences the likelihood of someone reporting an emergency such as smoke coming from another room or a vent. After this phenomenon was introduced, Latané and Steve Nida (1981) explained it was the most replicated effect in social psychology according to their review (p. 305). Many factors are taken into account as to why this social phenomenon exists. Diffusion of responsibility and pluralistic ignorance, to name a few, describe how groups are influenced by the bystander effect. Some case studies, that have been conducted, do not support the effect though. Altruism, personality, and morals are why people get involved occurs.

Imagine there is a man lying on the stairs in front of an office building in the middle of a city. He is an average looking man in jeans and a plain t-shirt. The man appears to be hurt because he is face down and moaning. Many people stop to assess the situation. Here is where the diffusion of responsibility takes place. Diffusion of responsibility is the concept that each person is only responsible for an equal proportion of effort base on the number of people in a group (Latané and Darley, 1968). Considering it is a busy city, many people do not have time to stop and check to see if he is all right. No one is assigned to take accountability for a person in distress. All the people that see the man, and notice that something is wrong, automatically pin the responsibility on everyone else, figuring others will intervene. It is stated that as the number of bystanders [increases], the amount of responsibility any one bystander bears [decreases] (as cited in What Is Psychology 2002, p. 503). If there were one hundred passersby walking past that hurt man, the likelihood of anyone stopping is very low. When the liability of interference is singled out or placed upon one person, contribution to the circumstances is very high. There are a number of reasons why the diffusion of responsibility takes place.

People that are aware of an emergency tend to look at what others are doing because they are inclined to follow normal behavior. People imitate what others are doing in order to achieve a sense of normalcy. Some people do not want to assess a situation incorrectly. For example, the man mentioned above may be hurt but to some people he may appear drunk. Witnesses sometime believe everyone else knows something they do not know. One person might have been watching that man...
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