Many of you may have experienced falling on ice without anyone around to help, even though there were several people present. Or maybe you needed help boarding a bus and suddenly there was no one to make eye contact with and ask for assistance. Maybe you spent the next few minutes cursing the state of the world, wondering why nobody helps each other anymore, etc., but I have an explanation for you from the field of psychology: the bystander effect.
The Bystander Effect and Kitty Genovese
The original idea behind the bystander effect was based on a 1964 tragedy when a young woman named Catherine “Kitty” Genovese was brutally murdered. During the investigation, it was found that approximately 37-38 people saw or heard about her death, but none of them took any action to help her or call the police. Many years later, however, the findings were revised, and it turned out that many of those who could hear that a murder was happening nearby thought it was just a drunk or a “common” marital argument. This story quickly became the basis for years of research on this psychological phenomenon by psychologists Darley and Latané.
” It would never happen to me, I would help.”
Well, who knows. It is precisely because we often misjudge our reactions to intense situations or stimuli that this social-psychological effect is one of the most replicated in history.
The conclusions of studies show that if we are not in a group, we are much more likely to help than when we are surrounded by people and more focused on ourselves. If you can’t imagine an example, perhaps one from life. Autumn 2016, Vysoká Street in Bratislava, a man lying on the ground in the middle of a pedestrian zone. Number of passersby who stopped to help the man: 0.
This brings us slowly to the topic of the social influence of our environment on ourselves. The bystander effect causes us to seek confirmation of our convictions from others even if we may register a situation that would be worthy of our reaction. In other words, when five other people say that the situation leaves them cold, there is a high probability that we will remain similarly inactive. Since modeling explicitly dangerous and life-threatening situations for experimental purposes is really on the edge, most experiments focused on this effect worked with situations that did not directly involve life-threatening situations. Another example from life that you may know: you are sitting in an office with several people, but something starts to smell strange and you don’t do anything, even though you really feel it, you don’t go to open the window or find out the cause. And maybe on the other hand, you can’t stand it, you react, and in the course of the conversation with colleagues, you find out that maybe one of them had already sensed it an hour before you did.
A meta-analysis of research across 50 years has also found that the bystander effect is weakened by the nature of the situation, specifically if it involves a violent act, there is a higher likelihood that it will not leave us cold, just as when we perceive the presence of an aggressor and it is necessary to exert primary physical force.
Our expectations in life vs. reality
As I have already indicated, it is 100% impossible to rely on outside help. On the contrary, the effect of diffuse responsibility can truly make us invisible when we need it most. However, you will certainly appreciate a few tips on how to become noticeable in situations where you need help. Even just getting into a vehicle.
Address your request for help to a specific person. It doesn’t matter if you know them or not. Addressing a specific person removes a kind of veil of group responsibility from them and shifts the responsibility to themselves. Try it even outside of stressful situations. 🙂
Don’t rely on the fact that there are always many people willing to help everywhere. On the contrary, the more people, the less willingness to help.
If you see a situation where help is needed, take action. Perhaps the initial impulse will come from you and it will take a lot of effort, but it will certainly not leave the people around you indifferent. If you are surrounded by acquaintances, there is a much greater likelihood that they will help along with you.
Reflection in conclusion.
Today, dear “psycho” readers, I wanted to encourage you to reflect, even if it may be a bit exaggerated. What in your life do you just passively watch and wait for someone else to propose a solution or change? Although we are members of many groups in life, some collective responsibility can never replace our own unique responsibility for what we do. As an absolute dot to today’s reflection, I recommend watching the TEDx talk below. I couldn’t give a better conclusion myself. 🙂