The Bystander Effect
P1 Good people often fail to act. Although people like to think that they think for themselves, most are greatly influenced by the effects of group dynamics. When people are in a group, they feel a pressure to conform to the group’s values and social norms. Solomon Asch showed that most people will conform to a group’s answer despite being certain it was the wrong one. Humans have evolved to live in groups. When acceptance means survival, conformity can be a beneficial trait. The bystander effect is a phenomenon where the number of people in a group is inversely related to the likelihood of a person intervening. A person is more likely to get help if only one person sees them than if hundreds of people walk by them. When a person is alone, they feel a greater responsibility to help another. When multiple people are able to help, each feels less responsible because others have the ability to help. A person in a group looks to others for the appropriate response. If others are passing by, then refusing to help seems to be the proper response.
P2 The murder of Kitty Genovese may have inspired the research on the bystander effect but it is a poor example of the bystander effect. Ten days after the murder, The New York Times published an article with the memorable title, “37 Who Saw Murder Didn’t Call the Police”. This article has distorted the public’s view of the murder. It implies that 37 people watched a person get murdered without helping. The bystander effect is the only explanation for this false scenario. The actual events are not explained by the bystander effect. The bystander effect only applies to groups. The actual number of witness that understood the gravity of the situation was 7. These 7 people were not all together and and had no way of knowing that others were watching. These people were either alone in their apartment or with one other person. The bystander effect is negligible in a group of 2. The bystander effect also relies on a person looking to others for an appropriate response. This would be impossible if the witnesses were in other apartments and all looking through their windows. Another misconception is that the witness took no action. One man shouted at the murderer to leave the victim alone. This was effective and scared him off. Another witness claims that his father called the police and said that a woman was beat up and staggering. When the murderer came back for his second attack, a witness alerted another resident who called the police and held Kitty in her arms until the ambulance arrived. Multiple witness intervened with the murder in varying degrees. Assuming that the other witnesses understood that a woman was being murdered is unfair. The murder happened in a well off neighborhood with a low crime rate. It would be outrageous for the witness to hear someone yelling and to jump to the conclusion it was a murder. One couple that the yelling was a lover’s quarrel. A sensationalist article has distorted our view of this murder and unfairly demonizes the witnesses.
P3 Although the bystander effect doesn’t apply to Kitty Genovese’s murder, it is very real. The smoke filled room experiment demonstrated the bystander effect in a controlled environment. While a subject was taking a questionnaire, smoke would come under the door and start filling the room. When the subject was alone, they would often report the smoke to someone. When the subject was in the room with others that were not reacting to the smoke, they rarely reported the smoke. They would ignore the smoke with the others. This experiment showed that a person in a group looks to the other group members before acting. Because the others didn’t react to the smoke, the subject assumed that the smoke was not a threat. If no one takes the initiative to be the first to help, no one else will help.
P4 The real world demonstration of the bystander effect was in 2009 when a sophomore was raped and assaulted by 10 people while another 10 watched. She was found nearly nude, covered in scrapes and bruises, with head trauma, and a near fatal blood alcohol levels. Although alcohol was involved, it does not explain this atrocity. The witnesses understood what was happening. Some even announced it to others. There were multiple ways the witnesses could have stopped this. The simplest way would be to call 911. In 2009, 80 percent of teens had a cell phone. Help was just a phone call away. They could have told one of the chaperones from the dance. The chaperones would have stopped the rape and called the cops. They could also have stepped in and stopped the rape themselves. Instead, the girl was found by chance. Someone had heard a student talking about the rape and called the cops. The only explanation for this is the bystander effect. The witnesses likely saw each other just watching and thought that was the appropriate response. This incident showed how real and how powerful the bystander effect can be on witnesses.
P5 Humans can be loving and compassionate at times. We can also be apathetic and cruel. The bystander effect shows that well meaning, normal people can ignore a person in need. We see ourselves as sophisticated but our primitive traits are still linger. People are still influenced by group dynamics. We doubt ourselves when our thoughts differ from our group’s thoughts. Acceptance can mean survival and can be more important than what we think is doing the right thing. Unfortunately, the bystander effect still shows how groups can cause us to ignore our intuition and conform. People in need will still be ignored.
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