Humans are highly developed creatures who can feel such things as compassion and sense of responsibility. Thanks to this, people can expect help if in trouble, but, unfortunately, people mostly ignore requests for help in critical situations, like just passing by when a woman is being attacked by some criminals, or not responding in any way when someone is crying outside for help.
Are we really that passive or heartless? That is not the case. In some cases, at least. The phenomenon of people choosing to ignore suffering of another person is called bystander effect, which is the less likelihood of a person offering help with bigger number of observers.
The bystander effect was first demonstrated in 1968 after death of Kitty Genovese. That incident occurred in New York City’s borough of Queens in 1964, outside of the apartment of Genovese, who was stabbed to death.
After the incident reporters were baffled by inaction of her neighbors. The New York Times claimed that 37 or 38 witnesses saw or heard the offence taking place, but did not call the police. And so the incident caused further researches, resulting in the demonstration of bystander effect or “Genovese syndrome”.
In 1968 psychologists John Darley and Bibb Latané became interested in the topic of Kitty Genovese’s murder. They conducted series of experiments, in which effects the power of social norms and diffusion of responsibility have been witnessed.
Darley and Latané staged the emergency and tested the concept of noticing with help of the students of Columbia University. The students were located in an experimental room either alone or with a group of strangers to complete a questionnaire, waiting for the experimenter to return.
A gas was pumped into the room while students were filling in the form. Students who worked alone noticed the smoke almost immediately. Unlike that, for students who were working in a group it took more time. This phenomenon could be explained by social norm, or “polite etiquette in public”, more precisely. If your companion doesn’t notice something than there is no need for you to do so.
Diffusion of responsibility is basically the same as the bystander effect. It was observed in another experiment by the same scientists. Three groups were participating in the test: the first had one participant, the second had two, and the third one had five. Experiment involved a conversation with a person who claimed he was epileptic.
A little bit later that person imitated epileptic seizure. Scientists took the fact of individuals aiding the person into consideration, as well as the time of decision making․ It revealed that the group with more people reported about the incident to scientists with increasing delay. There are several reasons for that.
When in social situations, an individual is less likely to intervene if he doesn’t know the victim personally, instead thinking that the victim will be assisted by individuals who have relationship with him.
“I shouldn’t help, there are people who can do it better” or “Why would I help, there are so many people around”, a person may think. Also, in crowds an individual is less likely to feel responsible for the occurring incident. In ambiguous situations perception of the situation and following actions of an individual greatly depends on behavior of other individuals.
We may or may not confront such situations which we have the right to make decisions in. If similar event occurs, it is up to each one of us whether to take action or not. Without a doubt, is it very difficult to orientate in extreme circumstances, but quickness of your decision making might be critical. We’ll only say that inactivity at least will make you feel guilty. The rest is up to your perception and analyzing, so be ready to make decisions, even if it seems that everything is okay.