Bystander effect 

Bystander effect occurs when the presence of people discourages a person to intervene in emergency situations (Abbott & Cameron, 2014). Researchers popularize the concept basing it on an infamous Kitty Genovese murder case that occurred in New York City in 1964.  Ms. Genovese was killed in the vestibule of her apartment in the deserted street in Kew Gardens, Queens by Winston Moseley. She was stabbed at least 14 times, and despite her screaming for help, none of the 38 bystanders at the apartment offered aid (Merry, 2016). Her case caught public’s attention, and psychological scientists researched the bystander effect.

Several witnesses were reported to have seen the killer fled the scene with his car after stabbing Kitty in the back twice, and returned after about ten minutes when a neighbour responded. He stabbed again the already unconscious woman several times, stole money, and assaulted her sexually before a neighbour called the police. The reaction of the neighbours not acting or calling the police on time, after watching and listening to the holistic event is not different than in other emergency situations

Bystander Effect Research

The research was conducted by Darley and Latané, by thinking of psychological experiments that would help them see through events matching Kitty’s murder case. The objectives were to find why some people help in emergencies whereas others do not.

Research methodology involved university student participants, who were told they would be taking part in a personal problems discussion. Each had a separate room but had to participate by talking to other participants of varying numbers in discussion groups. Conversations were through speakers and microphones so that they would not have to see a physical audience.

Every participant was allowed to speak to the groups for two minutes in turn, on conversations revolving college life topics. Microphones of the other participants would be switched off, and the subject would only hear pre-recorded voices without consent. The number of voices the speaker was addressing depended on treatment conditions they were in, which had to be five. The first condition has to be a solo, followed by a face to face conversation, and finally in a group of participants. The researchers pre-recorded an epileptic voice with seizures, first confessing to the group the seizures were life-threatening in the first phase. Seizures started in the second phase, and the subject would hear the audience having seizures without seeing them. This phase determined to measure the time the subject took to stand up, walk out, and look for the experimenters to seek help.

Experimental results showed only 31% of the subjects tried to ask for help in the bystander apathy experiment. The higher number of participants did not attempt to gather help to assist the suffering person. The significant experimental findings were on the first condition of treatment. The experiment on face to face conversation, 85% of the subjects attempted to seek aid. The results show when subjects realize they are the only ones aware of a situation, there are higher chances they will not inquire help (Abbott & Cameron, 2014). The issue of concern about the experiment is that majority of larger groups showed the minimum reaction to the incident.

The study concluded that there is a higher probability of people responding to an emergency situation if asked for help when there are fewer people around. The experiment showed that people are less likely to help when a lot of people are present, as depicted by the significantly lower percentage of subjects that asked for help.

Bystander Effect Experiments

Darley and Latané conducted a fire experiment where subjects were filling out questionnaires in a room that was introduced with smoke later. The subject was alone in one condition, and in the second three naïve subjects were put together. The third condition had a single subject with two confederates who noticed smoke and purposely ignored it. 75% of alone individuals saw smoke and reported it, but only 10% of individuals with confederate people raised the alarm. Some subjects responded the same initially; with the unresponsive number concluding the smoke was not dangerous or was part of the experiment (Abbott & Cameron, 2014). The experiment with smoke resolved that togetherness can reduce fear even in situations danger is not reduced. They failed to react because they realized the situation was not threatening.

The researchers performed another experiment using a distressed lady, where subjects either waited alone, with friends, passive confederates, or with strangers in the room. They were placed in a single room separated with curtains and had to go through them to the waiting room. The experiment leader left the room, and on his way out tuned a pre-recorded tape stimulating a fall and continuously mourning about a hurt limb for 130 seconds. Measurement of the percentage of subjects who took action and length of the reaction was recorded. 61% of the run through the curtains to find the experiment leader, 14% used a different door, 24% just called out, and nobody reported the incident (Abbott & Cameron, 2014). A large number of lone subjects (70%) reacted, with only 7% of individuals with passive confederates reacting.  70% of subjects with friend pairs provided help (Abbott & Cameron, 2014). Those who offered help did so because they thought the fall was serious, while those who did not help said that they were unsure of what to do. There was no much group influence but concluded the risk of inappropriate behavior is less with friends.

Other research conducted to investigate social determinants of bystander intervention was the case of the stolen beer to test possibilities that large numbers of people influenced helping intervention when a villain was involved. A fit to be tied experiment tested what people would do in an emergency; and results showed those in a group of friend respond quickly, while those who fail to report shows some level of concerns.

Altruism Concept

Altruism refers to behaviors designed to improve the welfare of others without a direct reward to the people performing them. This happens when people stop to help people stranded on highways, emergencies, or involving themselves to stop a crime occurrence. Assisting strangers represent true altruism although there is help with motivations of self-concern, and events people don’t help at all without caring. The concept explains the unselfish motives of individuals helping others voluntarily.

Altruism has indirect rewards such as good reputation as a result of helping others. Helping behaviors attribute to altruistic personalities that consider good people to be helping people. Acting altruistically improves helping people’s reputations in the society making them more desirable. Cooperative efforts in public make people judge individuals who attribute more cooperation a having higher social status than those who show less cooperation.

People are likely to help others when they are rewarded and less likely in case the perceived costs of issuing assistance are higher. The social norms of altruism require people to help those in need without expecting future paybacks. Altruism concept says people are born into the world prepared to be good to others, but recent experiments indicate altruism has environmental triggers and not inborn.

Social psychology experiment was performed to help inspire people to help without expecting rewards. The experiment to explain altruism theory placed participants into cubicles, reading essays. The cubicles had a lonely Confederate woman called Jane. One group was told to think individual feelings in the essay, while the other group had to think objectively. Participants read both essays and were asked the number of hours they would spend with Janet. Individuals with higher empathy were expected to choose a higher number of hours to spend time with her, with or without the availability of experimenter. According to Hirschberger (2013), altruistic characters results from empathy, a consistency response of emotions between the needy and the person assisting.

Similarities between Bystander Effects and Altruism Concept

The two concepts relate because they all talk about helping others, though not very clear on to what motivates the behavior of helping. There should be situation definition when offering assistance. Decision making in helping others is not a simple choice and calls for a series of questions to be addressed before helping. Help sometimes comes easy where help is quickly needed, but there are ambiguous situations where helpers need to identify situations that require their need. Emergencies might make helpers look up on others to decide the action, and when they too don’t have solutions, effective measures are not offered.

In both theories, being in groups may facilitate or inhibit helping the needy. Presence or absence of others might affect an individual’s decision to help or not help others, but when the bystanders are alone the decision to help is sorely theirs. Having more potential helpers in a scene increases chances of helping victims, but knowing other bystanders cannot offer the help relieve others’ responsibilities. Availability of crowds in emergency scenes because of pluralistic ignorance and responsibility diffusion affects help provision. On the other hand, crowds are important especially in unclear emergency situations because they provide important social information on the action.

Differences between Bystander Effects and Altruism Concept

The altruism concept and bystander effect fail to interact when it comes to the application of social norms. Bystander effect fails to appear when other people model their response to help. This contradicts the diffusion of responsibility concept in altruism that ensures individual conformity to social norms. Social norms expect individual helping behavior to increase when another person offers help as compared to when there are no bystanders (Cahn, 2013).

Bystander effect experiments are pessimistic on a likelihood of generating practical outcomes of assistance offering experiments. Individual characters do not govern altruism concept experiments showing moral behaviors, but by social mechanisms show the bystander is blamed for showing bad character.

Reaction to Emergencies

In the event of an emergency, as an intervener, I must make a series of decisions. After interpreting the event as an emergency, I would decide whether I have the responsibility to act, and if so the forms of assistance I would use. Intervening to offer help in events of a witnessed crime is risky because people giving help have a greater risk of being attacked than if they did nothing. The likelihood of the criminal fleeing is greater than attack to a helper; therefore I would simply call ensuring minimal involvement and minimal risk. I would combat the lack of involvement by reporting the crime anonymously to place via a call or a text message and be a good witness. I would be conscious and look for characteristics that would make the criminal standout, such as unique scars, type of earrings, and tattoos.

Majority of people fail to realize they are witnessing a crime’s ambiguous situations. People should resist the urge to look to others and go with their instincts, and act if they realize victims need their help. At best you save lives, but at worst you only feel embarrassed which goes fast than living with regrets of a life you let perish.

Witnessing an accident or someone who is ill or fell on the street would make me trust my instincts and those of people around to help them, or not to help them. By knowing responsibility progression, I might take action because we are all responsible for helping the victim. Once a single person offers a hand to help, others will follow to establish a social norm. In situations I require help to assist the victims; I would look the bystander in the eye and ask for their help to make them feel responsible. I would perform first aid to victims of an accident then take them to the nearest hospital if they are need of advanced healthcare.

Criticism of the Research

The concept of bystander effect has been widely accepted because it addresses an important issue, but the researchers create the theory based on inaccurate information on Kitty’s death (Fuchs, 2014). The researchers failed to include the physical situation of the attack, and whether the attacker was armed and dangerous. In 1964 there were no communication innovations like mobile phones or the 911 services the witnesses could have used to contact the police. In the same year, the culture had not granted women the rights of movement, and therefore violence against women was not a strange issue. The pluralistic ignorance would not affect the witnesses because their behaviors could not be easily assessed while in their apartments.

Social psychologists use the research to say the more people present in emergency situations, the less likely any person is to help. I disagree with this because sometimes individuals assume others will help, so they do not need to. They tend to think the victim has friends or people they are close to among the crowd or are more qualified helpers around.

When a larger crowd is present, individuals lead to think there are other observers likely to handle the situation better. There might be a qualified doctor on the scene who would give the patient a better help. There is also the self-conscious type of people who would not give a negative image to other bystanders. To avoid making mistakes, they tend to simply not respond to the emergency. They fear driving negative perceptions to others by being outranked by other helpers, or fear of rejections by a victim, or barred by law for previously offering inferior assistances.

There is the issue of symbolic interactions when a person meets bystanders. They look to others to figure what should be done in ambiguous situations and when you find bystanders not helping, you tend to think nothing can be done.  In unclear circumstances, people think they are not allowed to help in emergencies when they find bystanders not helping, and to a point tend to think it is not an emergency.

Altruism has potential unrecognized negative aspects of the society. They are all involved with tradeoffs but attempts to promote other people’s welfare leaving unanticipated harm to those providing harm. Altruism can bring stress because of lowered self-esteem that comes with issuing poor health. Other risks are diseases when assisting accident victims without protective gears, delays in your activities, and even death when helping stop a crime.


Abbott, N., & Cameron, L. (2014). What Makes a Young Assertive Bystander? The Effect of Intergroup Contact, Empathy, Cultural Openness, and In-Group Bias on Assertive Bystander Intervention Intentions. Journal of Social Issues, 70(1), 167-182.

Cahn, S. (2013). The Altruism Puzzle. Journal of Social Philosophy, 44(2), 107-107.

Fuchs, E. (2014). How The Murder Of 28-Year-Old Kitty Genovese Became America’s Most Misunderstood Crime. Business Insider. Retrieved 24 February 2018, from

Hirschberger, G. (2013). Self-Protective Altruism. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 7(2), 128-140.

Merry, S. (2016). Her shocking murder became the stuff of legend. But everyone got the story wrong... The Washington Post. Retrieved 24 February 2018, from…murder…/544916d8-3952-11e6-9ccd-d6005beac


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