The Bystander Effect
In 1964, Kitty Genovese, a 28-year old female, was brutally murdered outside her New York City apartment. Unfortunately, this is not an uncommon occurrence in this city. However, what heightened two social psychologists’, Bibb Latane ; John Darley (1969), interest was that the bystanders who witnessed the attack did not intervene or dial 911 for emergency assistance. As a result, Kitty Genovese died of her inflicted wounds.
The social psychologists deemed this response as the ‘Bystander Effect’; a social psychological phenomenon that refers to situations in which individuals do not offer any means of help in an emergency when other people are present (Latane ; Darley, 1969). The more people who are present at an event, the less likely someone will assist (Latane ; Darley, 1969).
Latane ; Darley (1969) attributed the bystander effect to two major factors: diffusion of responsibility and pluralistic ignorance (para. 10). This occurs when other people think that someone else will intervene and they will not react. Pluralistic ignorance refers to the mentality that since everybody is not reacting to the emergency, their help is not required. When others who are observing fails to respond, people do not feel pressured to take action and assume a response from them is not needed or appropriate. Unfortunately, in Genovese’s situation, the 38 bystanders evoked a disconnect between what we believe is true about ourselves and how we will honestly help under pressure (Latane & Darley, 1969). However, it was found that when there is an emergency, the more bystanders there are, the less it is likely they will help (Latane & Darley, 1969).
As a result of the publicized Genovese murder, John Darley and Bibb Latane hypothesized that the more people who witness a crime, the less likely anyone will help. This premise was their framework for the intervention of bystanders that directed the researchers’ experiment relating to a social behavior in a controlled laboratory environment. In testing the proposition, they created a situation in a realistic emergency setting to test its plausibility.
In their experiment, Darley and Latane (1969) recruited three groups of college students. A person was placed in a room with a microphone. The researchers manipulated their independent variable by informing them that there would be one other participant in a different room communicating with them; two other participants in separate rooms; or there were five other participants also in separate rooms (Darley ; Latane, 1969). During some point in their conversations, a subject would hear someone speak and sound as though they were having a seizure episode. The participants were prevented from communicating with others to avoid them getting information on how they respond to emergencies. The number of witnesses was the independent variable. Speed and frequency were the reactions to the situations in the experiment. The two qualities were documented as the dependent variable and the outcome supported their prediction). Darley and Latane (1969) concluded that people, in general, believe if they are the only one who knows about an event, there is a higher probability they will seek help. In contrast, the larger groups showed fewer reactions to the incident (Darley ; Latane, 1969).
As a result, most of the subjects who thought they were by themselves with the victim, responded to the emergency quickly. Still, only 31% of the subjects thought they were with other bystanders informed the researchers of the emergency and tried to help. This means that many of the participants did not look for help to assist the seizure student. However, the findings were still significant that 85% of the subjects actually did seek assistance (Darley ; Latane, 1969). The results substantiated diffusion of responsibility.
Implications and Situationism
The major cause of the bystander effect is diffusion of responsibility. The higher number of observers, the lesser the chances are to receive help, the lesser number of bystanders, the higher the changes probability is to help someone in need. The bystander effect is more of a psychological issue (Bystander, n.d.).
There are several implications of the bystander effect. We tend to follow what we see and may accept the bystander effect as a regular response to these situations. In addition, people may lose loved ones to vicious crimes and become apathetic. When this occurs, they fail to react on an emotional level and become hardened. In addition, people may tend to see many situations as nothing more than a social psychological problem and become desensitized to the needs of others. At some point in time, people may become a victim and in turn, experience the bystander effect.
Situationism refers to a circumstance that directly affects behavior and behavioral choices (Fiske, 2010). The scenarios found in the bystander effects experiment situational. The scenarios were; the single person felt they were responsible and responded immediately, and the other, did not want to become involved and waited for others to react first. Additional situations that correlate to the bystander effect surface such as thinking a physician is at the scene, the fear of rejection if help is offered if a person is outranked, or the uncertainty of legal consequences that may make matters worse (Bystander, n.d.). Their research suggested that personality was a major factor determining how you offer to help. To offer the correct type of assistance, relevant skills and knowledge are required to handle certain situations. However, there are some who do assume the responsibility; the “active bystander”. The active bystander is the person who witnesses an emergency, recognizes it as such, and takes it upon themselves to do something about it (Bystander, n.d.). This person could have saved Kitty Genovese.
The bystander effect results would not have been influenced by culture, ethnicity or gender. It affects attitude or biases behavior toward each another rather than culture. However, awareness is not enough to overcome bystander apathy when responsibility is obvious. Those who witnessed Genovese’s murder believed someone had already called 911 (Darley & Latane, 1969). It is not important as to what part of the world they live in, their gender or the color of their skin, we are all human which means we should become active bystanders, regardless of where we are.
Importance and Relevance to Contemporary Society
The results of the bystander effect study are relevant in today’s contemporary society because it provides additional studies to pursue in social psychology. Myers (2010) found that the more research is conducted, the more information is understood about human behavior and their responses in emergency situations. There is a continual need for psychological testing and the results shared for other’s to advance their knowledge of the human behavior. The U.S.’s laws protect any bystanders acting in good faith. Also, in today’s contemporary society, the bystander studies will hope to encourage everyone to dial 911 without hesitation, reservation, or recognition from their neighbor.
The bystander effect assists with determining the responses and behaviors of people who share emergency situations. The realization of the effect may appear harsh as people failed to respond when needed. In contrast, the research provided insight into social behavior and responses in emergency situations. Examples can be seen daily where people help others, of heroic acts, and altruistic behaviors. The research is important to help understand the whys of human behavior which may warrant modification for social and community benefit. Research has also shown that individuals who understand the consequences of the bystander effect have become more likely to aid in emergencies (Darley & Latane, 1969).