We, humans, like to act as if we are the most sophisticated beings on the planet, we exaggerate our qualities of helping others and take pride in doing so, however, in reality, we are nothing like this. There is a saying that, if you want to do something right, do it yourself but when it comes to actually do it most of just stand still and wait for others to do it. This becomes truly problematic in situations where immediate action is required.
What is the Bystander Effect?
During situations of emergency, if one happens to be alone, they’d act naturally to help others without any second thoughts, however, this changes drastically when more people are present. The term Bystander Effect or Bystander Apathy implies that the more the number of individuals are present, the less likely any of them are to help a victim in need, the idea behind this being that each one of them has this idea that somebody else will initiate the action. Additionally, no single person has to take responsibility for the lack of action.
This idea was popularised by two social psychologists, John M. Darley, and Bibb Latané upon publishing their classic experiment in a laboratory. In the experiment, participants were asked to give an exam and they were observed on how they react to smoke in the room in three separate conditions, in the first scenario only one participant was present in the room at a time, in the second situation they were accompanied by two other participants, and lastly, two confederates who were present acting like participants. John and Bibb observed that when they were alone around 75% of the participants reported about the smoke, while 38% reported about the smoke when they were sitting with participants, and surprisingly when confederates noticed the smoke and ignored it only 10% of the participants informed the examiners about it. Though this was conducted in a controlled environment, upon observing actual cases John and Bibb said that there are certain factors that affect bystanders’ mentality.
- Emergencies that require immediate help.
- Emergencies that involve real threats.
- Contemplating if the victim deserves help or not (depending on the victim’s appearance).
- The relationship between the victim and the bystander.
- Ability to inform the authorities.
Real-life Examples of the Bystander Effect
- Kitty Genovese: This case has almost become synonymous with the bystander effect as it is cited each and every time it is talked about. On 13 March 1964, a bartender named Catherine Genovese was walking home at 3 AM in Queens, New York. As she approached her apartment she was attacked by a man later identified as Winston Moseley. Genovese was stabbed and around 38 witnesses were present at the time but none intervened. It was noted that the initial attack began at 3:20 AM and it was not until 3:50 AM that someone first called the police to report the incident. But this case also comes with a lot of speculations as the newspapers seem to have exaggerated about the event and later it was noted that the witnesses could not actually see the attack. Nonetheless, it has become the prime example.
- The Business Crowd: This did not happen exactly but psychologists conducted an experiment in the real world to see how people reacted and if the bystander apathy was true. Two actors were acting to be severely ill and in excruciating pain followed by unconsciousness, people did notice these actors passed out or were in pain but didn’t stop to help as they thought somebody else will. Some people were concerned but did not want to be stood out of the crowd and ultimately walked away, it took over 30 minutes for someone to actually help the actors. However, another strange phenomenon was noticed when one of the actors dressed in formal attire, he was helped within six minutes. So it is safe to say that we do judge others based on their appearances.
- Raymond Zack: Another classic case of this effect, on a memorial day a 53-year-old man named Raymond Zack walked towards Robert Crown Memorial Beach and stood in neck-deep water for almost an hour. His foster mother called 911 stating that he was trying to drown himself, firefighters and police responded quickly and arrived at the situation. However, none of them entered the waters thinking the other authority might do it and even though many people were present at the location, none of them intervene because they were thinking the emergency services would save the man. In the end, a good samaritan entered the waters and pulled Zack to the shore, however, Zack passed away shortly after due to hypothermia.
In the end, we need to educate people about how to help others despite being in public or alone as it could mean the difference between life and death. As for these examples, it goes to show despite claiming how we humans are we act completely different and just like to follow a sheep mentality.