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.
P1(a). 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 him or her than if hundreds of people walk by them. When a person is alone, he or she feels 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. The result is a person in need being ignored by seemingly apathetic witnesses. This phenomenon is called the bystander effect.
P1(b). Psychologists started studying the bystander effect after the infamous murder of Kitty Genovese. Psychologists used the bystander effect as an explanation of the seeming lack of action taken by the supposed witnesses. Although the bystander effect is a true phenomenon, the event that first inspired research on it is otherwise unrelated. Contrary to popular belief, the bystander effect does not apply to the witnesses of the Kitty Genovese murder. This belief still persists due to the news article written about the murder. The legend refuses to die.
P2 10 days after Kitty’s 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 witnesses that understood the gravity of the situation was seven. These seven 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 two. 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.
P2(a). Another misconception is that the witnesses 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 witnesses 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 done by John Darley and Bibb Latane 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 reported the smoke 75 percent of the time. When the subject was in the room with two confederates that were told not to react to the smoke, they only reported it 10 percent of the time. When three subjects were put together, they reported the smoke 38 percent of the time. This experiment proves that the bystander was at play. If the bystander effect had no influence over the subjects, then the group of three should have reported the smoke over 98 percent of the time. If each subject has a 25 percent chance of ignoring the smoke while alone, then three only have about a 1.6 percent chance of ignoring the smoke. This huge deviation can only be explained by the bystander effect. This experiment also gives insight into how people think in groups compared to when alone. When alone, the subject saw the smoke and realized it could be a threat. The subject then reported it. When in a group, the subjects would look at each other before reacting. They looked towards others for the appropriate response. Because the others didn’t react to the smoke, the subject assumed that the smoke was not a threat. Since everyone is looking at others before reacting, it gives a false impression that no one is alarmed by the smoke. The result is everyone in the group act apathetically towards the smoke. 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.
It is hard to imagine why ordinary people don’t help when they see someone in need. I that remember in Little League 2 kids would be in position to a catch a fly ball. Either player could catch the ball but instead they let the ball land between them. Each player wrongly thought that the other would catch the ball and that they didn’t need to. This is a similar concept to the diffusion of responsibility. The diffusion of responsibility is an explanation of the bystander effect. When a person is alone and sees someone that needs help, they feel that they are fully responsible for helping them. When that same person is in a crowd, that responsibility is split between everyone in the crowd. Because everyone has the ability to help, each person wonders why it has to be them to help. This explains why larger crowds are under a greater influence of the bystander effect; people feel less responsible for helping.
The bystander effect seems to originate from the way we socialize and conform to group norms. It is a part of humanity; it’s not a learned behavior. Children were researched to find if they were affected by the bystander effect. Five-year old children and adults had similar results. They helped a person in need more when they were alone and less when around others. The study concluded that it was most likely due to the diffusion of responsibility instead of social referencing like in the smoke filled room experiment. Although children easily pick up behaviors from the people around them, their diffusion of responsibility was likely part of their nature.
P5 A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. It seems strange that after all of these years people still don’t understand the inaction of the witnesses of the Kitty Genovese murder. People have misconceptions about this murder because they don’t have enough information about it. Almost 60 percent of people surveyed said that they only read headlines. It is likely the actual number is high due to some being embarrassed and unwilling to admit that they only read headlines. If the majority of people are basing their opinions off of the title alone, it makes sense that they have a warped view of the actual story. They have never heard any interpretation of the story. Even if the other 40 percent of the people read the article, they would still be influenced by the headline. Headlines are meant to grab the attention of the reader. Unfortunately, they also influence the reader. A study has shown that misleading headlines impair information processing. A headline interprets a story for the reader and creates a bias in the reader before they get a chance to read the article themselves. After reading the headline,” 37 Who Saw Murder Didn’t Call Police,” the readers were already influenced to the interpretation of the writer. They read the article with a bias in their head and fail to interpret the information for themselves.
P6 The misleading headline didn’t only influence people while they were reading the article. Misleading headlines like the one used in the article change which details the reader remembers from the article. People are more likely to remember details that are related to and support the headline and dismiss other information. They are also more likely to remember the headline even if it is not proven or supported by the article. This means that it is likely that readers remember the headline that told them that 37 people watched a woman get murdered but forget that a man intervened by yelling at the murderer and that a woman called the police and stayed beside the body while ambulances arrived.
P7 Headlines can also invoke an emotional response from the viewer. A headline like, “37 Who Saw Murder Didn’t Call Police,” invokes a very strong response. It makes the reader angry at the bystanders that failed to act, upset a person was so close to help but didn’t receive any, and confused why the witnesses didn’t call the police. These emotions influence how well the reader can rationally think about the article. A study published in The Frontiers of Psychology has shown that mood can affect how well a person does on intelligence tests. People in a good mood perform better than people in a bad mood. Therefore, it is likely mood also affects how well a person can read an article and form reasonably opinions about it. After reading a title that makes the reader angry and upset, they are not in a good state of mind to read the article. Because they were impaired by their emotions, they were less adept at forming reasonable opinions.
P8 After forming these misled beliefs on the murder, people failed to change them when presented with newer and better information due to simple biases. Everyone is subjected to confirmation biases. We like to be right and we trust ourselves to have the right opinion. After all, we were the ones who formed it. People tend to embrace information that supports our belief and ignore or even attack information that contradicts it. People ignored evidence that showed that the original article was wrong or misleading. Without giving new evidence a chance, it is impossible for someone to change their opinion. Because this article was likely the first information the readers received about the murder, the readers were subjected to the first impression bias. People tend to give more weight to information they received earlier. The information used to create a first impression is more important to a person and is harder to refute. These biases make it difficult to effectively argue and change people’s minds. The result is people holding onto their old beliefs and opinions.
P9 Psychologists explained the witnesses’ of the Kitty Genovese murder apathy 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. Some believe that the bystander effect is a myth itself. 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.
P10 The murder inspired experiments that attempted to quantify the bystander effect. The smoke filled room experiment seems 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 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.
P11 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. Unfortunately, the bystander effect is a real phenomenon despite its shaky foundation. Social dynamics affect us everyday. They can be a positive or negative influence. By learning more about them, we can negate the negative effects. By being aware of the bystander effect, we can make sure people in need aren’t ignored.
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