Bystander Intervention in Emergencies

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The bystander effect is one of the most experienced and difficult to explain the psychological behavior of human beings. Bystander apathy is also a synonym of the bystander effect. The effect is a psychological phenomenon referring to situations whereby people do not offer any help to the victim of a particular occurrence when there are other witnesses/people present in the case. There is an inverse relationship between the probability of aid and the number of bystanders. There is less likelihood of support to the victim with an increasing number of spectators CITATION Peg02 \l 1033 (Peggy Chekroun, 2002). Various variables and factors that tend to explain the effect. Diffusion of responsibility, cohesiveness, and ambiguity are some of the variables describing the bystander apathy phenomenon.

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Bibb Latane and John Darley were two United States of Americas psychologists who got an interest in demonstrating the bystander effect through the performing of several experiments. The 1964 murder of Kitty Genovese was the primary source of inspiration to Darley and Latane CITATION BIB69 \l 1033 (BIBB LATANE, 1969). Newspaper reports stated that thirty-eight people witnessed the murder, but they offered no help. Moreover, the attack lasted for almost one hour. The astonishing thing is that the murderer escaped in the presence of all the thirty-eight witnesses. The case is one of the many examples of the bystander effects in the current life.

Following the murder of Genovese, Latane and Darley launched a sequence of experiments to demonstrate the bystander effect. In a characteristic test, the participant is either in a group of other members or alone. There is then the staging of an emergency situation. The researchers then the period it takes for the intervention of the participants if any. According to the experiments, the presence of other people inhibits helping by an individual CITATION DAR68 \l 1033 (DARLEY, 1968). The year 1969 saw Bibb latane stage an operation involving a woman in distress. Seventy percent of alone individuals went to offer aid to the woman after they had believed she was hurt. Only forty percent of the same people went to offer help when there was the presence of other people.

Darley and Latane went on to perform three other experiments to verify the behavior of bystanders in non-emergency situations. The results showed that the means through which victims seek for help are a determining factor of onlookers response. A bystander was more likely to help when given much information than when the information is too little. After the experiments, Darley and Latane came up with five features of an emergency that tend to have an impact on bystanders. Emergencies require immediate action, are rare, there is the threat of harm, are unpredictable, and vary depending on the situation.

Spectators experience some behavioral and cognitive process change as a result of the above characteristics. The procedures include the degree of responsibility felt, assistance form, noticing the event, emergency situation interpretation, and implementing the choice of action. According to the two psychologists, three things determine the degree of responsibility felt by the bystander. They are the relationship between the victim and bystander, witness competence, and the bystanders feeling on whether the victim deserves help. Darley and Latane went on to come up with two forms of assistance namely Detour and Direct intervention. Detour intervention involves reporting the relevant emergency authorities, for example, the police. The direct involvement requires the direct support offered to the victim by the bystander.

The social media platforms today present one of the best relevant situations demonstrating the bystander effect. Social media avenues such as Twitter and Facebook are full of people discussing and sharing various issues. Therefore, one year ago, I decided to share the story of my high school classmate who had been diagnosed with a kidney problem and needed a kidney transplant operation in India. The process required twenty-thousand US Dollars. Since he was one of my best friends I had the task of opening and managing an account for donations. Therefore, I decided to turn to my friends and former classmates by posting the story in social media both on Twitter and Facebook. There were so many friends sharing the story on the platforms but at the end of the donation period I had only received one hundred US Dollars, a number very low compared to thousands of friends who shared and commented on the story.

Most people have thousands, if not hundreds, of social media friends. Therefore, there is an assumption that someone will surely step up to offer help since many people are commenting and posting on an issue. The friends end up doing nothing when they all assume the same thing. Social media is one of the ideal scenarios of the bystander effect. Problems shared on social media presents relevant examples of lack of action. Social media influence does not equate to the actual donations/help.


The bystander effect continues to be a widely observed behavior globally. Victims continue to suffer in the presence of other people who can help but instead end up not offering any assistance. It is the time that psychologists developed ways of contributing to reduce the bystander effect. Each person needs the other in this world. Therefore, it is important to offer support when required.


BIBB LATANE, J. M. (1969). Bystander Apathy. American Scientist, 268.

DARLEY, J. M. (1968). BYSTANDER INTERVENTION IN EMERGENCIES. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 383.

Peggy Chekroun, M. B. (2002). The bystander effect and social control behavior. European Journal of Social Psychology, 867.

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