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The Bystander Effect: What Would You do?
What is the Bystander Effect?
The term bystander effect refers to a social phenomenon in which the humanity of people come into question.
The bystander effect proves time and time again that the greater the number of people present, the less likely people are to help a person in distress.
In other words when an emergency situation occurs, observers are more likely to take action if there are few or no other witnesses.
Once someone stops to help, other people stop to offer their help as well.
Why does this happen?
If you were a passerby in the video above....
What do you do?
Why We Fall Victim to the Bystander Effect
One reason is it's so easy to "pass the buck" is because we assume someone else will take care of it. Thus leaving us free of the moral obligation to help one another should the need arrise.
Another reason(s) we may fall victim to the bystander effect is our innate need to behave in a way as to protect ourselves, not be bothered, or follow behaviors that would be considered part of a social norm.
Therefore if people are just walking by we may surmise:
"Well other's are just walking by, surely that person is OK."
But if others stop we then sense an urgency and we conform to what is considered socially normal.
Kitty Genovese and the Bystander Effect
Possibly the most famous, yet gruesome, story of the bystander effect is that of a woman named Kitty Genovese.
Upon returning home from work Kitty Genovese was less than 100 feet from her apartment door when she was brutally raped, stabbed, and left for dead.
After the publication of the horrific crime many neghibors, 38 to be exact, reported hearing screams for help, or that they had peered out their windows and visualy witnessed the crime taking place. It wasn't until after Kitty Genovese suffered a horrfic death that people began to share the stories of what they had witnessed.
Some witnesses even reported shutting their curtains or windows to avoid hearing the "noise" or getting involved.
For more on Kitty Genovese see the link to the right. "A Cry In The Night..."
How many times have you heard screams, or a cry of help and not taken action based solely on not wanting to get involved?
The Bystander Effect When Children Are Involved
When children are involved one would think that an adult (or anyone) would be more inclined to step in and help.
Sadly, the bystander effect still comes into play.
The majority of people when asked about why they did not help the little girl responded with "the child is just acting out" or "someone else will handle it".
As a Mother...
As a mother of two young girls I would welcome someone questioning my child if she ever was yelling anything of that nature.In the heat of the moment I may be aggravated but I would calm down (eventually) and rationalize that that bystander was trying to protect my child.
At the same time I confess I am guilty of the bystander effect when it comes to "minding my own business". Simply, for many of the reasons listed above.
Theoretically, it's easy to say I would stop and help whomever needed the help.
But would you?