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Although I admit that the murder of Kitty Genovese is a poor real life example of the bystander effect, I still believe that the bystander effect is a real phenomenon. People with a more radical view reject the bystander effect completely and believe that it has been created by psychologists. They believe that people are selfish and only help others if they think it will benefit themselves. They find flaws in experiments that attempt to show the bystander effect in isolation.
The origin of the bystander effect is rooted in myths and lies. The bystander effect was first used to explain the inaction and apathy of the witnesses of the Kitty Genovese murder. The story says that 38 witnesses watched a woman get murdered. They could have easily called the police and saved Kitty’s life but chose to let her die. Psychologist explained their choice to be a result of the bystander effect. This explanation is flawed since it is based on a severely warped version of the Kitty Genovese murder. The bystander effect was created to explain a fictional story. I agree with this objection. The bystander effect is not a reasonable explanation of the true story of the murder of Kitty Genovese. However, just because the bystander effect doesn’t apply to the true story of the murder doesn’t mean it can’t explain other events. The murder was the start of research that eventually showed that the bystander effect.
The murder inspired experiments that attempted to quantify the bystander effect. One study is the smoke filled room experiment. Subjects were put in a room alone, with other subjects, or with confederates that were told to ignore the smoke. While filling out a survey, smoke filled the room, suggesting a fire. 75 percent of lone subjects reported the smoke while only 38 percent of the subjects in a group reported it and only 10 percent reported it when they were with confederates. These results seem to support the idea that people in groups are less likely to act. Others aren’t convinced. It can be difficult to draw conclusions from studies when humans are the research subject. When asked why they didn’t react to the smoke, the subjects said they assumed it was part of the experiment. They didn’t believe that they were in any danger. If they the subjects didn’t know that they were in an experiment, it is reasonable to conclude that they would have acted differently. Although this sounds reasonable, it doesn’t explain why the subjects that were alone were so much more likely to report the smoke than the subjects in a group. The disparity between the groups shows that there is a group dynamic at work and that the subjects were under social pressure.