The Bystander Effect

Psychological Experiment

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.

Related Material:
Stanford Prison Experiment
The Connection Between Free Will And Morality
The Influence Of The Environment On Decisions And Memory

One Comment

  1. This is true about groups and how people interact. In the past, if I see someone who needs help, I help them regardless of whether or not other people are going to help me help them. I live in a big city and this phenomenon happens all the time. I’m not scared of helping others around me if others don’t join me because I wouldn’t want to be the person who needs help and no one helps me. I wouldn’t treat them as I wouldn’t want to be treated. I have called 911 many times helping people this way. Not bragging by the way, just saying. Even if the crowd doesn’t go with you, you have to help others. Eventually, others will want to help.

Discussion | Share Feedback | Ask a question Comments RSS Feed