The Bystander Effect Makes You Less Likely to Act When Others Are There

You've probably heard of the bystander effect, the idea that when a lot of people witness something, they don't act because they assume others will. But is it really true?

The Kitty Genovese Story

Many people know the story of Kitty Genovese: in 1964, she was stabbed to death outside of her apartment while 38 tenants of the building watched from their windows. None did anything to intervene because they assumed other people would. In fact, the important details of this story are more fiction than fact — two people called the police, and one man yelled at the killer to leave Genovese alone — but even still, the "bystander effect" this story usually illustrates has been shown to be a real phenomenon.

When Else Does It Happen?

Psychologists Bibb Latané and John Darley examined the effect in a number of studies. In one, students sat in a booth alone with a mic and headphones and were asked to discuss a particular topic with either one or four people in other booths. At one point, one of the participants had a (staged) seizure. A full 85% of students left the booth to report the seizure when they believed it was a one-on-one conversation, and only 31% reported it when they thought there were other people there. Another study showed that people will stay in a room filling with smoke if they're with others who don't react. So how do you avoid this tendency? If you see an emergency, make it your responsibility to either intervene or report it. This extends to non-emergency situations, as well: if you need a task completed at work, for example, ask one person directly instead of asking a group. We've collected some awesome videos on this topic. Watch them now to learn more.

Written by Ashley Hamer June 30, 2016

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