Today, there have been many stories of people that have just sat back and watched as a tragedy happened and did not intercede to help someone.

From schoolhouse bullying to neighborhood violence, there tend to be those bystanders that just do not help at all. Are these people just as bad as the people committing the violence, or are they more similar to you and me? Most people would want to state that those people are not like them at all; however, the bystander effect suggests otherwise.

First, ask yourself these questions: If you were living in New York and suddenly heard screaming outside your apartment and a woman begging for help, would you intercede? Would you at least call the police?

Answer honestly, and do not be too worried if your answers surprise you.

The Case of Kitty Genovese

The event described above actually happened back in 1964 to a woman named Kitty Genovese. Kitty Genovese was brutally raped and stabbed outside an apartment building, while neighbors admitted hearing her scream for help, many of them did nothing.

In fact, her rapist had time to assault her three different times over the course of 35 minutes (Rosenthal, 1999). It was only after her rapist and murderer had left that any neighbor decided to call the police.

The Kitty Genovese case was the launch of multitudes of research on what is now known as the bystander effect. I want to believe that our society is much better than this bystander effect, but I keep seeing it over and over again in these types of situations.

We have teenagers being gang-raped at dances, while others watch; people being beaten up while no one does anything except record the footage and put it on YouTube, and people actually encouraging other people (who may or may not be clinically depressed) to kill themselves over social media.

Darley and Latane Study

The bystander effect states that people are less likely to help in an emergency situation when there are groups of people around at the same time. The more people there are, the less likely anyone will help (Darley & Latane, 1968).

There are a few reasons for this. The first is that everyone there diffuses responsibility to someone else. This means that we all think someone else is going to help, so when everyone is thinking that, there is no one left to help.

The second reason is that we may not feel qualified to help. If we do not think we are the most qualified person there to help, then we will be less likely to interfere with the situation.

Darley and Latane came up with their theory back in the late 1960s. However, we are still mostly proving them correct today in 2014. There are exceptions, of course; however, it is less often than one would think.

Is it our subconscious preventing us from interfering because we don’t want to be the oddball out? Or are we more like the monsters that we despise than we would like to admit?

Because after all, people that witness a violent act but do nothing to help, are conspiring, albeit unknowingly, to let the attacker get away.

The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch them without doing anything.
– Albert Einstein

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