The Bystander Effect: What holds you back from offering a helping hand?

Bystander effect

How many times have you walked away without paying attention to a road accident victim? Are you also one of those people who just pass by to look at the drama on the streets and step back when it comes to lending a helping hand to the injured?

Well, you are probably not the only one doing this! It’s a common phenomenon that is termed as “THE BYSTANDER EFFECT.”

How could people be so indifferent and emotionally unavailable during an emergency? Let’s find out!

Diffusion of responsibility

Bystander Effect refers to the social paralysis that occurs in the presence of others, and it discourages people from intervening in a crisis. What exactly happens is, the greater the number of people, the less likely a person will react in distress. The onlookers feel that they don’t need to initiate assistance as other witnesses are likely to do the honors. The idea of self-motivated responsibility ceases to exist when you are a part of a large crowd.

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How this concept came into existence?

Every psychological theory has an interesting story behind its origin. Here’s one such incident that led to the introduction of “Bystander Effect.” In 1964, a young woman named ‘Catherine Susan ​Genovese’ was returning home from work and all of a sudden, she was stabbed by a man identified as Winston Moseley. She called for help several times. There were dozens of people around her apartment building, but none of them came forward to provide her with aid or called the police. Such a shame!

Genovese’s murder case was subject to numerous interpretations and inaccuracies, and urged social psychologists, Bibb Latané and John Darley, to study the concept of how bystander effect can have a significant impact on social behavior.

The research findings

Researchers John Darley and Bibb Latane conducted a study on some selective participants to analyze how people take action and seek help, depending on the number of observers confined in the room.

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In the experiment, the subjects were placed under three conditions – alone in a room, with two other participants, and with two confederates who pretended to be normal participants. They were asked to fill out questionnaires while smoke began to fill in the room.


1. In the first case where participants were alone, 75% reported the smoke to the experimenters.

2. In a room with two other people, 38% of participants reported the smoke.

3. In the third group, the confederates noted the smoke and ignored it, resulting in only 10% of the participants reporting the smoke.

Through the experiment, it was discovered that around 70% of people would help a woman in trouble when they were the only witnesses, while nearly 40% offered assistance in the presence of other people.

The mindset of a bystander

If you think that humans have the propensity to “behave” only in social spaces like workplace or parties, then you are wrong. Human disposition compels them to quit their responsibility of addressing an issue and let others do their job.

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In the wake of “behaving in socially acceptable ways,” people tend to relinquish the duty of rescuing victims found in trouble. ‘Active bystanders’ do not feel the social pressure to do something worthy.

How can we escape the trap of inaction?

The best way to prevent bystander effect is to understand your tendency to refrain from such problem and consciously take steps to overcome it. Pushing yourself to do something for a stranger selflessly will give you a sense of gratification.

Life can be hard sometimes, but the people you come across make it even more vicious. Show some mercy to others and empathize with the needy ones because you never know you might be at their place in the future.


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