The Bystander Effect

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There are many theories and principles within the branch of social psychology that challenge the minds of social psychologists. One principle that many psychologists study has to do with is the bystander effect. The bystander effect is a social psychological phenomenon that refers to situations in which individuals do not offer any means of help in an emergency when other people are present (Darley, 2005). The more people that are present, the less likely someone will help.

There are three previous studies that have been conducted that are similar to the questions listed above. John Darley and Bibb Latane are two psychologists that studied the diffusion of responsibility. These two psychologists hypothesized the more people who witness a crime, the less likely anyone will help. To test this proposition, they created a situation in which a realistic "emergency" could plausibly occur. In their experiment, each subject would be blocked from communicating with others to prevent his getting information about their behavior during the emergency. The independent variable would be the number of witnesses. Their experimental situation allowed for the assessment of the speed and frequency of the subjects' reaction to the emergency. These two qualities served as the dependent variable.

            A second study, performed by Stephanie Bell of Missouri Western State University, examined the diffusion of responsibility. With regards to the diffusion of responsibility, Bell wanted to know if sexes are more likely to help the same sex or the opposite sex. Bell hypothesized that more participants will help a female confederate more than a male confederate. In this study, the gender of participant and gender of confederate are the two independent variables. The dependent variable is whether or not the person helped the confederate.

            A third study, performed by Glen Whyte of the University of Toronto, examined the diffusion of responsibility and its effects of the escalation tendency. In this study, the possibility was investigated that group decision making in the initial stages of an investment project might reduce the escalation tendency by diffusing responsibility for initiating a failing project. The diffusion of responsibility and size of the group served as the independent variable while the amount of escalation effects served as the dependent variable. The escalation effects occurred less frequently and were less severe among individuals described as participants in a group decision to initiate a failing course of action than among individuals described as personally responsible for the initial decision. All three of these studies listed above are all significant. Each of these studies can be related to real life situation. The results of each study might be helpful in real life dilemmas.

            All three of these studies can be related to the bystander effect. In my opinion, we all would like to think that everyone would help in an emergency situation. If a car on the side of the road was on fire, wouldn't you think everyone would stop to help the people in the car? According to the bystander effect, if many people are witnessing the emergency, then few people will actually stop and help because most people figure that other people are already helping. As a society, I think we all have to be familiar with this effect in order to help eliminate it in emergency situation.



Bell, S. (2006). Diffusion of responsibility: are sexes more likely to help the same sex or opposite sex?. Retrieved from 813.php


Darley, J. M., & Latan√©, B. (2005). Bystander intervention in emergencies: Diffusion of responsibility. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 8, 377-383. Copyright ¬© 1968 by the American Psychological Association. Reprinted with permission. 


Whyte, G. (1991). Diffusion of responsibility: effects on the escalation tendency. Journal of Applied Psychology, 76(3), 408-415. Retrieved from documents/diffusion_of_responsibility.pdf

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I would like to add on to this post. About two hours after I posted this blog post, My mother and I decided to take a road trip to the Grove City Prime Outlets, which is a shopping mall about an hour away from my house. It's a straight shot on the highway. As we were driving on the highway, we came across a car stranded on the side of the road. It appeared to be a flat tire. My first instinct was to stop and see if the people needed help. However, it was pitch black out. Then I also thought what if the people were dangerous people and had a gun of some sort. All these thoughts ran through my head within seconds. Without thinking too much in thought, my mother and I drove away as if we had seen nothing. I immediately thought of this blog post I had made just hours earlier. The bystander effect clearly took place in this situation. As I looked around me, I noticed there was five cars ahead of me and three cars behind me, none of which stopped to help. The other drivers probably thought they already called for help or they didn't want to stop because it was dark out. However, how do we know if they had a cell phone? What if they were humble people trapped on the side of the road. All of these thoughts flowed through my head and my mother and I drove away without helping.

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