Monday, March 24, 2008

The bystander effect

The bystander effect

One of the most interesting phenomenons in social psychology is the bystander effect, which states that the likelihood that an individual will intervene in an emergency goes down as the number of bystanders increases. In other words, there is a lower probability that a specific person will intervene and help a victim in an emergency when there are many people around, as compared to when he or she is alone facing the victim.

This is because we often base our judgment and interpretation about an event or a person on the reactions of other people. Thus, we rely heavily on others as a source of information because of informational influence, as we are motivated by a desire to be correct and to obtain valid information, especially when the situation is ambiguous and we are unsure about how to react. Hence, if other bystander does nothing to help to the victim, we may interpret that the victim is probably fine and that it might not be an emergency after all.

Another reason to account for the bystander effect is the diffusion of personal responsibility, when other people are present in an emergency situation. Since there is more than one bystander, their sense of personal responsibility creases as they rationalized that it’s not their responsibility to attend to the victim and that their help is not needed as other people might provide assistance to the victim as well.

The following report is taken from The New Paper on 22nd March this year.

Brief description of the case:

A local secondary school girl was assaulted by her schoolmates just after school and was beaten up so badly that she has to be admitted to a hospital immediately. Her attackers used to be her friends since last year; however, they apparently fell out when the she wanted to leave the group, as she decided to concentrate on her studies. What’s more surprising was that she was attacked in front of over a dozen onlookers, who are also her schoolmates, but no one did anything to prevent or stop the assault, which leave the victim with bruises all over her forehead, arms and legs. Despite her cries for help, none of the bystanders provide any assistance to her and instead, some even use their handphone cameras to film the attack. The victim’s ordeal ended when her attackers escaped upon hearing someone’s shout that the police were coming.

This is a typical example of the bystander effect in action. Since the victim and her attackers, as well as the bystanders, were schoolmates and used to be friends, the question then is why none of her schoolmates stand out and stop the assault? Aren’t friends supposed to help each other?

Analyzing the case in a social psychological perspective, I would attribute the behaviors of the onlookers as a manifestation of the bystander effect. First of all, according to the report, there are about 15 bystanders at the scene, when the victim was assaulted. As we all know, the probability that any bystander would intervene decreases as the number of bystander increases. Therefore, the likelihood that the victim would receive help in this case, is rather slim in the first place. Secondly, due to the large group of bystanders, most of them experienced responsibility diffusion, as they felt less personal responsibility for helping the victim. Thirdly, besides informational influence, the bystanders were also held back by normative influence, as they wanted to be liked by their in-group members and continue to remain in the group so as to avoid conflict, even though they might not necessarily think that the violent behaviors are justifiable and correct. Lastly, after accepting personal responsibility to help the victim, the bystander also has to decide on an appropriate form of assistance before taking actions. Simply jumping into the scene and prevent the attack from happening might not be the best way to intervene, as he or she might get attacked as well. Although the newspaper report did not further elaborate on who shouted for the police and stopped the assault, I believe it was one of the bystander, who has finally made a wise decision.


Chan, C. (2008, March 22). Despite her cries for help, schoolmates just stand and film attack.
The New Paper, pp. 2-3.


dax said...

The bystander effect are likely to be more prominent among the younger age, as they are more vulnerable to social pressure. The one who shout might actually be someone older.

jessica said...

Food for thought...
Do you think bystander effect now has got to do with environment we're living in as well as us being less civil minded and self centered?
Back in old kampong time, we seldom see such cases. But right now, there's competition everywhere thus we rather look than do anything to help.

buaysenger said...

I think the bystander effect includes everyone, all of us are bystander at one time or another.

Don't you think so? Everyone of us always wait for somebody to start something and to do something. Isn't it because we are also afraid of being implicated? We try to avoid trouble ourselves and so became selfish....

Frank said...

Good thinking on the causes of social influences: informational and normative influence which affect comformity. Probably at such a situation, normative influence is highly at work. People think its a norm for others to help out,why should it be yourself.

Shuang Er said...

Maybe its the bystander effect, but do you think the way Singaporean are brought up have a role to play in this scenario?

Bystander effect is whereby they are waiting for cues to react, or relying on others to act before us due to the fact that there are many people who also saw the accident.

BUT look at it from another perspective, maybe NOBODY WANTS TO HELP at all. They are taught not to be a busybody or "KPO" when you see stuff happening by their parents.

It disheartening to see such report but yet no one should be surprised because we all live in this nation call Singapore.

social_issues said...

Some of the bystanders were the victims schoolmates or old friends. These bystanders may have known that the victim's attackers were her old friends whom the victim moved away from. The bystanders may have thought that the victim deserved being assulted as the just world theory explains that the world is a fair and just place where people get what they deserve.

Anonymous said...

i agree, i think the main challenge for most people here to to take ownership and responsibility of the situation that they need to help. It is always about if i help, i might feel embarass or what will people think of me. If we can see through this mental barrier and take stock of our life in a new paradigm, this world will be a better place with more active prosocial behavior :)

cheng tsuang chih (leovine)


Bystander effects may because of fearful for getting troubles to bystanders themsevles. May also because of people's "traditional" thought that careless to others around you, so that aovid troubles.
Bystanders effects because those may think "big thing will be a small, a small thing will be nothing", so people will have a peaceful mind inside, therefor, become careless about others who are getting hurting.