This post is Grassroots, meaning a reader posted it directly. If you see an issue with it, contact an editor.
If you’d like to post a Grassroots post, click here!

August 18, 2021

Bystander Effect

Photo by T on Pexels.

I was on my way to a lunch date and there was a little boy selling lemonade all alone on the side of the road, and as I drove by the look on his face crushed my heart. He looked SO sad as he sat waiting for passersby to acknowledge him and buy a cup of goodness.

As I drove I made it about 3 more blocks before I couldn’t stand how pathetic he looked, worse still was the overwhelming urge to turn around and help him out. I did. I turned my car around, parked illegally, and gave him all the quarters I had (about $6) for a little Styrofoam cup of pink lemonade.

The sheer delight on his face was so pure, sweet, and genuine.

He thanked me profusely and eagerly began counting his monies as I walked back to my car. Talk about win-win. I haven’t felt that good in quite some time. His jovial demeanor and excited waves of goodbye made me feel so damn good, great even! Cheers, young man, I hope you made a killing!

Although neither of us were in any sort of threatening dilemma my instincts to help him out were too great for me to ignore.

But what if he were in danger?

What if I as I drove by all I could hear was the sound of a child screaming, perhaps begging for help, hearing the sounds of a struggle. What then? Would I have turned around and intervened? Would I have called 911? Would I have lept from the shadows to beat, claw, and knee whatever was hurting him?

What if it was a woman?

Begging for help, crying, screaming, in the night, as you watched on from your window. You can see her; she’s being beat and stabbed.

What would you do?

Unfortunately the last couple of sentences from the previous paragraph are not hypothetical. It did happen. And, although several neighboring people either heard or watched a woman being murdered in the street, for more than a half-hour, and the attacker left and came back to finish her off.

Not a single person called for help, or intervened during his absence.

The murder of Kitty Genovese caused such outrage, not only from the gruesomeness of it all but also from the complete and total lack of assistance from any of the people watching on in horror. It became so widespread that it became the topic of research made famous by Bibb Latane & John Darley. Their bystander effect is now a staple in many psychology/sociology courses.

Darley & Latane found that those who do not help in situations where others are in dire straits:

  • Do not help do to lack of skill (medical)
  • Do not help because someone else will surely come along
  • Do not help because someone else is helping
  • Do not help because they do not want the responsibility of getting involved
  • Do not help because they lack impulse to spring into action

Another study, Mead & Kelty (2021), revolved around domestic violence and the likelihood of neighbors or friends getting involved by calling 911. They found friends/neighbors are unlikely to get involved due to:

  • Previous friendships or positive interaction(s) with the perpetrator cloud their judgement
  • Feeling that domestic violence is a private family matter
  • Do not want to strain their relationship with the perpetrator
  • Do not want to make a potentially false accusation
  • Worry that they will be involved in some form of legal retaliation

These studies are just a couple of many decades of research of the action/inaction of bystanders. I can understand people’s reluctance to get involved. But, lack of action will certainly cause those with greater amounts of compassion and empathy excessive amounts of guilt for an unspecified amount of time, guilt that will most definitely turn into insurmountable shame and grief if someone dies.

Kitty Genovese’s brutal murder, lack of intervention, and the ensuing research that followed prompted state and local officials to discover new ways for members of the public feeling more comfortable with intervening. Because of Kitty’s brutal demise and the outcry across the country about people watching and doing nothing for fear of legal repercussions. 911 was created as an anonymous emergency hotline and Good Samaritan laws were passed, preventing those who were doing their best to help from being sued if their attempts were flawed.

Please help the victim, even if it is just a simple phone call. Even if it turns out to be a misunderstanding.

Wouldn’t you rather be wrong than right with a funeral to go to?

All my best,

Tricia Rembold

If you need help or know someone who does please call (you will remain anonymous):

National Domestic Violence Hotline

1-800-799-SAFE (7233)

or Text “START” to 88788

For more information on the bystander effect seek out:

Darley, J. M., & Latane, B. (1968). Bystander intervention in emergencies: Diffusion of responsibility. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 8(4, Pt.1), 377–383.

Latane, B.. & Darley , J . M. (1969).  Bystander “apathy.” American Scientist (57), p. 244·268.

Harris, V. A., & Robinson, C. E. (1973). Bystander intervention: Group size and victim status. Bull. Psychon. Soc., Vol. (2) 1 p. 1-10.

Gleeson-Mead, C., & Kelty, S. F. (2021). Violence next door: The influence of friendship with perpetrators on responses to intimate partner violence. Journal of Interpersonal Violence(36)  p. 7–8.

Read 2 Comments and Reply

Read 2 comments and reply

Top Contributors Latest

Tricia Rembold  |  Contribution: 2,205