Out of all the times you have ever witnessed a stranger fainting in the street full of people, how many of those have you actually reached out to help?
What have you noticed about these occurrences?
Perhaps you’ve noticed that some people do rush to the scene to help, while others simply glance and keep walking. Why is it that reaching out to help isn’t as common as we’d think, given the multitude of people around?
Knowing that someone else can reach out to help, given that you’re surrounded by people in a crowd or in public, can actually decrease your probability of taking action. This phenomenon is explained by the bystander effect.
What is the bystander effect?
In the world of social psychology, the bystander effect explains why the presence of others lessens our probability of reaching out to help. In other words, being amidst a crowd actually affects our helping behavior.
It’s surprising to find that the mere presence of other people prevents us from acting in a helping manner in an emergency. In fact, depending on the situation and the amount of people, the bystander effect can even cause people to “freeze up” and make no move to help. This is described as “bystander apathy”.
So why does being in a crowd of people inhibit our ability to help and cause this apathy? The main conclusion: diffusion of responsibility.
What is diffusion of responsibility?
When discussing the bystander effect, it’s necessary to dissect the idea of diffusion of responsibility. This phenomenon explains why a person is less likely to take responsibility or action in a situation such as this when surrounded by people.
Mentally, what’s going on is the greater the amount of people present, the less earnest individuals are to take action. This is because the more people are present, the greater the “spread” of responsibility, and everyone can easily think to themselves that someone else will take action.
Then, when no other bystanders respond either, this is taken as evidence that no assistance is required. In today’s age, this phenomenon has resulted in permitting people to commit acts or call for help without ever being assisted or saved. It’s been common to have someone wait for help or interference, and not receive it despite being in a crowd.
This suggests that the presence of others influences people’s helping behaviors.
So next time you witness an altercation or an issue going on in a public space, try to break through the grip of the bystander effect and take action!