Siena Sysko ’21

The Bystander Effect is the psychological phenomenon in which individuals are less likely to offer help to a victim when other people are present. The greater number of bystanders, the less likely it is that one will help. Many factors contribute to the Bystander Effect such as ambiguity, group cohesiveness, and diffusion of responsibility.

The most infamous case surrounding the Bystander Effect is the murder of Kitty Genovese. Genovese was murdered in 1964 in New York City. She was returning from her workplace around 2:30 am on March 13 when Winston Moseley approached her 100 feet from her apartment door and stabbed her twice. Thirty eight of Kitty’s neighbors heard her screams and none of them helped her or called the police. Due to Genovese’s vulnerability, Moseley returned to the crime scene and stabbed her eight more times half an hour after the first attack. No one called the police until 4:15 am, and Kitty was already dead. Kitty Genovese’s death sparked a massive debate among psychologists about why none of the thirty eight people who witnessed her murder helped.

Five years after the Genovese murder, social psychologists Bibb Latane and John Darley published “Bystander ‘Apathy’” detailing their experiments involving the Bystander Effect. Their experiments placed subjects in situations with minor emergencies and correlated their responses to the actions of the confederates, actors who participate in an experiment pretending to be a subject. Their experiments show that social factors influence different reactions to emergencies. These decisions can be boiled down to three factors: the emergency being perceived, the appropriate intervention in the emergency occurring, or social pressure deterring the subjects from intervening in the emergency. Other experiments concerning the Bystander Effect have shown that people are more likely to aid in an emergency when they are with others they know, like their friends, as opposed to strangers, but people are mostly likely to help someone else if they are alone and can not rely on someone else to do it.

Studies also show that witnesses are more likely to help people dressed better. The same man was placed in the same environment wearing two different outfits; one outfit was casual and the other was a suit. When the man was wearing the t-shirt and jeans, no one helped him for 4 minutes and 37 seconds, but when he was wearing the suit, he received help in 6 seconds.

Next time you see someone in need, ask yourself, will you help them or will you let someone else help them and why?