Explanation: There are plenty of people on a central street in New York. It would seem that if you had an accident, there would be somebody to help you. But in reality, with many people around, it is much less likely that someone would stand up for you than if only one person were near you. The reason is that when there is a crowd, it is easier to shift responsibility to another: The “diffusion of responsibility” takes place.
Experiment: In a crowded subway station, an “actor” is lying on the floor and moaning in pain, asking for “help.” Everyone walks by, glancing at his side. Helping would be inconvenient and even risky. Nobody helped him for 20 minutes.
The psychologist’s explanation: Two conflicting rules clash:
- I should help;
- I should do what others do.
A crowd of strangers translates to: It is not worth helping, and it is difficult to go against their opinion. They form a temporary group that says: Do not get involved.
The experiment continues: An “actress” is lying on the same place as if she has fainted. Four minutes later, thirty-four people have passed without stopping. One woman stopped, took a notice, but conformed to the rule and did nothing. But when somebody else came to the sick “actress’s” help, the woman immediately joined the new group with a new rule: “To help.”
The experiment continues: This time an “actor” is dressed as a respectable gentleman, resembling many people around him. It takes a mere six seconds before he is rescued, and somebody even calls him “Sir.” Everyone suddenly becomes a good Samaritan.
Explanation: Everyone wants to help him because he is part of the “right” group. If we all feel close to each other, each of us will feel the need to help everyone else.