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Bystander effect

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Have you heard of the bystander effect? It has nothing to do with me. It is a weird phenomenon whereby, when an emergency arises, the more bystanders there are, the less likely it is that any of them will intervene to help.

The effect was tested in the 1960s by two New York researchers. They sat a series of students in a cubicle among other cubicles in which one or more tapes of voices were playing, so that the subjects would think the other cubicles were occupied. In one cubicle, the taped voice began to cry for help and make severe choking sounds. When subjects thought that no other person was there, 85 per cent rushed to help. When they thought one other person was present, the percentage dropped to 65. And when subjects thought they could hear four other people, only 31 per cent responded.

The researchers had similar results when they faked epileptic seizures in the street. When there was only one bystander, help was offered 85 per cent of the time, but when there were five bystanders, the figure was only 30 per cent.

Social psychologists believe that several factors contribute to the bystander effect. For example, as the number of bystanders increases, any individual may be less likely to notice the incident, less likely to interpret it as a problem and less likely to assume responsibility for taking action.

The bystander effect is also called the Genovese syndrome after a notorious incident in 1964 when a young New York woman called Kitty Genovese suffered a prolonged stabbing attack. According to newspaper reports, she screamed for help for at least 30 minutes, but none of the 38 eye witnesses intervened or even called the police until the killer had fled and she was dead. However, it seems the story was exaggerated by the media: there were few eye witnesses, since many of the bystanders heard screams but saw nothing, and at least one person did call the police during the attack.

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From: Beyond pharmacy blog

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