Bystander Intervention

Last Updated: 20 Jun 2022
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Understanding when and why people intervene to help others, or when they don’t, is at the heart of social psychology. All students of psychology study the famous case of Kitty Genovese, whose screams while being attacked failed to elicit help from the nearly 40 bystanders. Most research on bystander intervention has found that the size of the group greatly impacts the likelihood of intervention.

Too big of a group and everybody shifts responsibility assuming that someone else will help but the more people the less likely that any individual will help. It seems hard to imagine that people would not help when someone is in trouble, wounded, or in danger, yet it happens all the time. Recently I myself stumbled upon a scene of bystander non-intervention which I have since struggled to understand. The other day while walking home I came upon a man running up and down the street with no shoes or coat holding a phone out shouting at the people on the street and stopping cars banging on the windows.

I took a second to survey the scene and it was clear this man was trying to get something from those around him. However nobody was answering him and none of the cars even rolled down their windows to listen. I heard his questions loud and clear, albeit in broken English, “How to call an ambulance? ” Still nobody was saying anything. I shouted to him that he needed to call 999 and he came over profusely grateful for my help and I helped him make his emergency call and assisted him and his family until paramedics could arrive. His mother had fallen unconscious in their flat and he had run into the street esperate to know how to call emergency services in this country. I learned that he and all his family was from eastern Europe and they knew very little English. He also told me that he had been trying to get the number for quite some time but nobody had been willing to help. Having read work on bystander behaviour I shouldn’t have been that surprised that nobody helped but the situation just didn’t fit the common notion that with greater numbers people are less likely to help. Most of the famous incidents involving non-helping behaviour has been within large crowds.

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There were maybe 7 or 10 people on the street when I arrived. Most were just standing and watching. I don’t have a great answer for why people didn’t help, maybe they couldn’t understand his question but it seemed quite clear to me. Maybe they feared that it was some type of scam.. but certainly it can’t hurt to tell someone a phone number. Even more frustrating than not understanding the lack of help was the sneaking suspicion that had he been British, white, or at least a native English speaker, maybe someone would have helped. Research by Levine and colleagues suggests that there might be an element of truth to that.

In a study of non-intervention, their research suggests that bystanders are much more likely to help people when they feel that the person seeking assistance is part of their ingroup. This effect holds true even when controlling for the severity of the situation and the emotional arousal felt by bystanders. In other words, no matter how bad the situation or how badly the bystanders felt, they were still less likely to help when the victim was an outgroup member. This all makes sense from a social psychological perspective and lines up with other research.

People tend to behave better to people in their own group in general. But seeing it play outwas still a little depressing. Masculinity inhibits helping in emergencies: Personality does predict the bystander effect.  In 1968 researchers Darley & Latane conducted an experiment in which a student pretended to have a seizure and the experimenters recorded how often others stopped to help. When only one bystander was watching the scene, the student was helped 85% of the time. However, if there were five bystanders, the student was only helped 31% of the time. Does this make sense? Shouldn't having more people present increase the chances that someone will get help? Amazingly, this is not the case. We all take cues from those around us about how to act in different situations.

In emergency situations, many things prohibit bystanders from intervening: If no one else is acting, it is hard to go against the crowd. People may feel that they are risking embarrassment. (What if I'm wrong and they don't need help? ) They may think there is someone else in the group who is more qualified to help. They may think that the situation does not call for help since no one else is doing anything. With each person taking cues from people around them, a common result is that no action is taken. What can we do about this problem?

As members of the WSU community we all have a responsibility to help each other. Avoid being a bystander! Intervene regardless of what others are doing and don't be worried about being wrong; it is better to be wrong than to have done nothing at all. 1 I am a bystander. What can I do? Be on the look-out for potentially dangerous situations.  Learn how to recognize indications of potentially dangerous situations.

When a situation makes us feel uncomfortable, it is a generally a good indicator that something is not right. ¦It is better to be wrong about the situation than do nothing. Many people feel reluctant to intervene in a situation because they are afraid of making a scene or feel as though a person would ask for help if it were needed. 3. You have the responsibility to intervene. You may be thinking: ¦No one else is helping; it must not be a problem ¦People who are sober don't think this is a problem, maybe I'm wrong? ¦Jim's really responsible and he's not intervening... why should I?

It’s amazing how many people can tell you their story of being mugged in the city, even more surprising are the stories that occurred in broad daylight, with witnesses who seemed to have pulled a disappearing act during the occurrence. Two weeks ago, a pair of robberies at ATM’s in Columbus Circle and West 23rd occurred in broad daylight, shocking each of the victims who believed they were playing it safe by going out at early hours. The report fails to mention anyone around them stopping to help. A pregnant woman was also robbed and attacked in Gramercy Park when coming home from a doctor’s appointment- any witnesses?

Who knows? And let’s not forget the story in April when a homeless man lay dead for hours after being knifed to death in a heroic attempt to save a woman being robbed- witnesses and passerby’s caught on camera walking past the dead body without even calling for help. The excuse? Most assumed another already called the police. You would think that with so many people having experienced being mugged, most would readily lend a hand or just dial 911 when seeing someone else be mugged. Yet most of the time, no one even flinches.

In a busy, dog-eat-dog city like New York, the attitude seems to be more of “each man for himself. ” So, this poses a question that will require you to look deep down and really be honest. Would you stop to help someone being robbed or assaulted? Or would you leave them to fight their own fight? Besides, you don’t want to have to relive that kind of experience, putting yourself in danger – that would just be stupid, right?

If you work in the field of violence prevention, you are probably familiar with the story of Kitty Genovese. In New York, 1964 Kitty Genovese was murdered on the street while 38 witnesses watched from their apartments and failed to intervene. Her story has become influential to the field of social psychology and has promoted the development of ideas around the psychology of helping or “bystander effect” (Latane ; Darley, 1970). The bystander effect is described as the idea that individuals are more likely to help when alone than when in the company of others (Latane ; Darley, 1970).

There is a large amount of literature examining helping behaviors and trying to understand under what conditions do people decide to help others and models of the bystander effect have developed over time. The literature includes studies that examine individual and situational factors that promote or hinder pro-social bystander intervention (Banyard, Moynihan, ; Plante, 2007). Factors that have been found to affect helping behavior are group size, which accounts for the diffusion of responsibility or the idea that someone else will intervene. Perceptions and reactions to situations are negatively affected by the presence of other people.

These perceptions can be either real or imagined. Other studies have found that if a group is cohesive and communication occurs, a consensus to help develops and they are more likely to intervene (Banyard, Moynihan, ; Plante, 2007). Living in a rural environment may increase the likelihood of someone intervening (Banyard, Moynihan, ; Plante, 2007). Interpersonal factors that affect if a person intervenes includes: mood, individual perceptions of the event, mood, nature of relationship to the person in need of help, and perceptions that will be able to actually help the person (Banyard, Moynihan, ; Plante, 2007).

There appears to be ambiguity around intervening in several situations, especially those that are violent. Norms about what is appropriate and inappropriate behavior in particular social contexts are found in most aspects of individual’s daily lives and they also exist in the area of helping behaviors (Hart ; Miethe, 2008). Understanding these norms can facilitate a greater understanding of bystander behaviors and contribute to creation effective programs for increasing bystander awareness and behaviors in the area of sexual violence prevention.

Exploring the bystander effect is important because bystander actions and reactions may affect both the risks of violence and consequences of violence for a victim. A witness or bystander may deter a crime from occurring or their intervention may help a victim if a violent attack is in progress (Hart ; Miethe, 2008). Many people believe that violent crimes occur in secluded places out of the site of others. However, many crimes are committed in the presence of a social audience (Hart ; Miethe, 2008).


Should bystanders of crime be convicted? There is almost always something that a bystander can do to help stop crime against another human. If the criminal is waving a weapon around, it is understandable that not many bystanders would step up to the plate. However, there have been many cases lately that have shown how little bystanders do to help a person in need, when they are fully able to. Some of these bystanders actually JOIN the perpetrator.

The links I have posted here show video of a woman being beaten in a subway, with subway officers there. The officers say that it is not their job to step in, and they called for reinforcement. Whoever said that stepping in is not permitting was obviously not there, and did not see how important it is that they DO step in. The second video is a news report of a high school girl who was gang raped outside of her homecoming dance. People watched and jeered, and some who had just been walking by joined in to rape her. Some even recorded the event on their cell-phone cameras.

But no one helped these victims. Last semester I took Social Psychology and learned about the Kitty Genovese case. This woman was killed outside of her apartment complex as her neighbors watched and listened. They were given ample time to go out and help her or call for police after the killer had left. No one did anything. This is known as the bystander effect, which is sometimes caused by diffusion of responsibility. Bystanders think, "Someone else will surely help, someone else has probably already done something, yea, I don't have to do anything. " But often no one helps!

This cannot be used as an excuse. These people are almost as guilty as the perpetrator and should be convicted too. :Bystander,bystander effect,diffusion of responsibilty,Kitty Genovese,Social PsychologyNo TrackBacksember, when people intervene for the good of others, it creates a safer community.  Do Something A community where people intervene for the good of others is a safer community. "The Bystander Effect" Forty years ago, Kitty Genovese was attacked and murdered outside her New York City apartment building. Thirty-eight people heard her calls for help s they watched from behind their apartment windows. The attack lasted more than half an hour. After it was over, someone called the police, who arrived within two minutes. That 1964 incident became a textbook case. Why did so many witnesses fail to act? Phoning the police would involve no risk, and likely would have saved Ms. Genovese's life. Social psychologists Latane and Darley1 suggested reasons such as diffusion of responsibility or failure to recognize the true significance of the incident. They concluded that the more people witness an event, the less likely each individual is to intervene.

This became known as the Bystander Effect. When a violent incident or emergency occurs, the Bystander Effect is not a mere academic concept. In an unpublicized case last summer, seven young men robbed and knifed the 16-year old nephew of a Canada Safety Council staff member, who happened to be walking through a downtown park in a major Canadian city. No one helped the victim or called the police. If the attackers had been caught, they could have faced criminal charges instead of likely going on to commit more crimes. Someone in the crowd must have had a cell phone.

Why didn't anyone at least call the police? Numerous incidents like this happen in communities across Canada. Police estimate that only one out of every 10 swarmings is reported. The victims, often teenagers, are left scarred and traumatized for life. Such attacks lead many Canadians to fear their communities are unsafe. This fear only makes matters worse by creating abandoned, dangerous streets. It's not that Canadians don't act when they see an urgent situation. There are countless examples of successful intervention, including people who have risked their life to save a stranger.

Nonetheless, police and community safety leaders would like to see more bystander involvement. Simply by reporting an urgent situation, a witness can prevent it from becoming more serious. Everyone Can Help How can the power of bystanders be harnessed in the interest of public safety? Several factors can encourage people to help strangers in distress. When a victim makes it very clear help is needed, people are more likely to intervene. Don't expect bystanders to figure out you're in trouble. Make sure they know. For example, look directly at someone in the crowd and ask for help.

Perceived ability to help and perceived risk also determine whether or not a bystander will help. For example, the ubiquitous cell phone empowers users to call for help from almost anywhere, immediately and with little or no risk. Close to six million emergency calls are placed from mobile phones in Canada each year - about half of all calls to emergency numbers. Every day, thousands of Canadians use mobile phones to call for help when they see a crash, a crime in progress or a life-threatening medical emergency. Police urge witnesses of crimes to be observant and to call 9-1-1 as quickly as possible.

Give a good description of the perpetrators, where they came from and where they go after the incident. In 1993, two-year-old James Bulger was murdered in the UK by two older children. Ironically, 38 witnesses saw the toddler being led away against his will by two older boys. UK researchers looked at the role of bystanders in the tragedy. Dr. Mark Levine2 found that they did not intervene because they thought the three boys were brothers and considered "family" a private space. After examining other instances of bystander intervention and non-intervention, Dr. Levine concluded that members of a group take responsibility for the safety of others they see as belonging to the same group — and that the sense of group membership can be broadened. All Canadians must do their part to ensure we continue to live in a safe and civilized society.

No one living in a rural community would dream of stealing from someone else, because everyone knows everyone. Who wants to steal from people he knows? And if you stole a friends car, where could you drive it in a small community that it wouldn't instantly be recognized? When everyone knows everyone, complex social systems are not needed to help alleviate those disasters that strike-the fire and police departments are staffed chiefly by volunteers (who never go on strike), and the welfare department consists of charitable neighbors rather than squads o f social workers.

Cities are supposed to be collections of small towns, but in at least one important sense, they are not: in a rural community, everyone sees the (often rather crude) machinery of government and feels that it is available to him. In large cities, this machinery is mostly invisible, hidden away in inaccessible Kafkaesque corners. Involvement in local affairs is almost forced on the small-town citizen; the apartment dweller in New York withdraws into his own little world not so much because he wants to as because he has no ready means o f participating actively in the life o f his city even if he wants to.

And, as John M. Darley and Bibb Latane point out, withdrawal from and lack of concern about one's fellow citizens can become a terrible habit. Kitty Genovese is set upon by a maniac as she returns home from work at 3 A. m. Thirty-eight of her neighbors in Kew Gardens come to their windows when she cries out in terror; none comes to her assistance even though her stalker takes over half an hour to murder her. No one even so much as calls the police. She dies. Andrew Mormille is stabbed in the stomach as he rides the A train home to Manhattan.

Eleven other riders watch the seventeen-year-old boy as he bleeds to death; none comes to his assistance even though his attackers have left the car. He dies. An eighteen-year-old switchboard operator, alone in her office is the Bronx, is raped and beaten. Escaping momentarily, she runs naked and bleeding to the street, screaming for help. A crowd of forty passerby gathers and watches as, in broad daylight, the rapist tries to drag her lack upstairs; no one interferes. Finally two policemen happen by and arrest her assailant. Eleanor Bradley trips and breaks her leg while shopping on Fifth Avenue.

Dazed and in shock, she calls for help, but the hurrying stream of executives and shoppers simply parts and flows past. After forty minutes a taxi driver helps her to a doctor. The shocking thing about these cases is that so many people failed to respond. If only one or two had ignored the victim, we might be able to understand their inaction. But when thirty-eight people, or eleven people, or hundreds of people fail to help, we become disturbed. Actually, this fact that shocks us so much is itself the clue to understanding these cases.

Although it seems obvious that the more people who watch a victim in distress, the more likely someone will help, what really happens is exactly the opposite. If each member of a group of bystanders is aware that other people are also present, he will be less likely to notice the emergency, less likely to decide that it is an emergency, and less likely to act even if he thinks there is an emergency. This is a surprising assertion-what we are saying is that the victim may actually be less likely to get help, the more people who watch his distress and are available to help.

We shall discuss in detail the process through which an individual bystander must go in order to intervene, and we shall present the results of some experiments designed to show the effects of the number of onlookers on the likelihood of intervention. Since we started research on bystander responses to emergencies, we have heard many explanations for the lack of intervention. "I would assign this to the effect of the megapolis in which we live, which makes closeness very difficult and leads to the alienation of the individual from the group," contributed a psychoanalyst. A disaster syndrome,” explained a sociologist, “that shook the sense of safety and sureness of the individuals involved and caused psychological withdrawal from the event by ignoring it. ” “Apathy,” claimed others. “Indifference. ” “The gratification of unconscious sadistic impulses. ” “Lack of concern for our fellow men. ” “The Cold Society. ” All of these analyses of the person who fails to help share one characteristic; they set the indifferent witness apart from the rest of us as a different kind of person.

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Bystander Intervention. (2018, Jan 09). Retrieved from

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