Examples of the Bystander Effect
Just Admit It, You've Done It
Have you ever driven by a car accident? Did you stop? Did you call the police? Chances are, despite the fact that you won’t admit it to others, you know the answer is yes. Don’t worry, you are not alone. This is a well know human phenomenon known as the Bystander Effect. Most of us, depending on the situation, will diffuse responsibility if we are in the presence others. The question as to why we do this is complex and intriguing. The following examples offer a fascinating inquiry into this uncomfortable to talk about, yet common, human behavior.
On March 13, 1964, a twenty-eight year old woman named Kitty Genovese was walking to her apartment after a long night of managing the bar she worked for. In a classic case of “wrong place at the wrong time”, Kitty was chased and then stabbed by a man named Winston Moseley. Despite being well into the early morning hours, it is clear from eyewitness testimony that the attack was heard by the neighbors inside her Queens, NY apartment building and their yells frightened him away. The attacker ran away only to return ten minutes later to further stab her, rape her, and steal her money over a period of close to a half of an hour.
So the question is: if the neighbors heard the first attack, did they not hear the second one? Why did it take so long to call the police? (eventually, they did show up and Kitty died en route to the hospital).
Without a doubt, this was not the first case of the Bystander Effect (I can envision “cave-people” turning a blind eye when another cave-person gets attacked by an animal), but it certainly thrust it into the spotlight.
So Why Do We Do It?
The first answer to this question is found in another psychological concept: conformity. We do not like going against the group. If you are in a big city where literally millions of people will walk by someone laying on the street, you are less likely to stop yourself. If you do, you are breaking the group code and you will feel awkward. On the other hand, if you are the only person around, you are more likely to immediately seek help. The study known as the “Smoke Filled Room” exemplifies this concept. What would you do?
The Smoke Filled Room (no sound)
Does Appearance Matter?
It is one thing to conform to group norms, but we cannot rule out our prejudices when we examine the Bystander Effect. The way we dress, the color of our skin, our gender, coupled with the location we are in, all contribute as to whether not people will help. Take a look at the following video clips as examples. It is hard to ignore how much appearance impacts others’ actions.
The Business Crowd at Rush Hour
Gender and Race (Stolen Bike)
Is it Really All About Safety?
In the end, whether we are conforming and/or being prejudice, there is no ignoring that diffusing responsibility is a part of our lives. Something else to consider is that we really just don’t want to get hurt, or worse, die. If we approach an unknown situation, there is an automatic “flight or fight” response within our central nervous system. We either use our adrenaline and stress to help us attack an unknown situation OR we choose to flee.
Next time, despite the pull to flee, see if you can fight the good fight and stop and help, despite the fact that no one else is.