Bystander effect

The bystander effect is the somewhat controversial name given to a social psychological phenomenon in cases where individuals do not offer help in an emergency situation when other people are present. The probability of help has in the past been thought to be inversely proportional to the number of bystanders. In other words, the greater the number of bystanders, the less likely it is that any one of them will help [From Wikipedia].

The earliest example of bystander effect can be traced back to The Holy Bible. A lawyer (who happens to obey all the ten commandments) asks Jesus “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus then tells him a story-

A Jew is going along the road, and is beset by bandits, who beat him severely, strip his clothes, and rob him. They leave him for dead. Later, a priest walks by. He sees the Jew, moves to the other side of the road, and walks by without helping. Later, a Levite goes by, sees him, and gives him a wide berth, going on without helping. Later, a Samaritan (considered by the Jews to be outcasts) comes by, sees him, and immediately helps him, taking him to a nearby inn, caring for him, and paying the innkeeper. “Which of these is the neighbor of the Jew who is beaten by robbers?” Jesus asked. “The merciful one,” replied the lawyer. “Go and do likewise.”

I’ll present this theory with two examples-Example 1

The most infamous example of the bystander effect took place on March 13, 1964, in Kew Gardens, Queens, NY, when Catherine Genovese was entering her apartment building at about 3:15 AM, from work. She was stabbed twice in the back by Winston Moseley, a heavy machine operator, who later explained that he simply “wanted to kill a woman.”

Genovese screamed, “Oh, my God! He stabbed me! Help me!” and collapsed. Several neighbors in surrounding buildings reported hearing her voice, but decided it was probably just a drunken brawl or lovers’ spat. One man shouted from his window, “Let that girl alone!” which scared Moseley away. This neighbor was sure to have seen Genovese crawling across the street, under a streetlight, to her apartment, but did nothing to help her. Witnesses saw Moseley drive away, then return about 10 minutes later. He had put on a wider-rimmed hate to hide his face, and searched for Genovese in the parking lot, the train station, and the apartment complex, for 10 minutes, before finding her prone in the external hallway at the rear of the building, where the door was locked. She could not get in. Moseley proceeded to stab her to death, inflicting multiple wounds in her hands and forearms, indicating that she tried to fight him off. She finally succumbed and he raped her as she lay dying. He then stole around $50 from her and fled. The whole incident spanned 30 minutes.

A newspaper blasted it the next day as “Thirty-eight Who Saw Murder Didn’t Call Police.” A simple phone call to the police would have sufficed, but everyone assumed someone else would do it.

Example 2

Kevin Carter was a South African Photojournalist who, in March 1993, took the most infamous photograph, so far, of the brutality and disregard for human suffering in sub-Saharan Africa. The photo shows a female Sudanese toddler, alone and severely emaciated, attempting to crawl to an aid station for food. A vulture is standing on the ground behind her, waiting for her to die so it can eat her.

Carter claimed that he waited 20 minutes for the vulture to spread its wings, which he thought would make a better picture, and when it didn’t, he took the picture as is. For those 20 minutes, the toddler had to rest before resuming its trip. She whimpered and panted, and Carter did nothing to help her.

He took the picture, scared the vulture away, then left the girl to continue crawling on her own. No one knows what became of her, but it very likely that she starved to death. Either way, Carter claimed later that he just “didn’t want to get involved.” He killed himself the next year, after winning the Pulitzer for this photograph, by carbon monoxide poisoning, in his truck in Johannesburg.

I’m sure most of us have experienced such situations. Self interest is something else but doing nothing when someone’s right to existence is questioned is preposterous! Bystander Effect is yet to be proved. Lets disprove it!

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2 responses to “Bystander effect

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