Understand the social psychology behind crime and bystander apathy and the 1960 social experiments that helped popularize the theory.

Have you ever wondered why in most emergency situations, the victim may be surrounded by people but end up being alone? In some circumstances, no one comes to the rescue and if they do, it may be a little too late.

Read on to understand the social psychology behind crime and bystander apathy and the 1960 social experiments that helped popularize the theory.

What Is the Bystander Apathy Effect?

The bystander effect can be defined as a phenomenon in which individuals are less likely to help a victim when in the presence of other people. Also known as bystander apathy, this social psychological phenomenon comes about due to factors such as ambiguity, group cohesiveness and diffusion of responsibility. Also, when an individual is in the presence of others during an emergency situation, they tend to let the behavior of others to determine how they shall act.

Research on the Bystander Effect Psychology

The bystander phenomenon first came to light as a concern in situations where crime happens when a young lady, Kitty Genovese, was murdered outside her apartment. Her neighbors did not make an effort to come to her help and the response time was long.

A neighbor first contacted the police half an hour after the first attack took place. Some witnesses reported that they thought it was lovers quarreling and not an actual act of murder.

After the murder of Kitty Genovese, two social psychologists, Bibb Latané and John Darley, became interested in the bystander effect topic. Thereafter, they demonstrated and popularized the bystander effect in 1968. They did a series of experiments so as to demonstrate the bystander effect.

The experiments typically involved a participant who was alone and a group of participants. Thereafter, an emergency situation would be staged and the researchers would then measure the reaction time if the other participants would intervene. The findings of the experiments proved that the presence of others inhibited helping the person in distress, often by a large margin.

In 1969, Bibb Latané and Judith Rodin staged an experiment in which a woman acted out a situation in which she displayed she was in distress. The result showed that when people were alone, 70% of them called out for help or offered assistance to the woman, believing she has fallen and hurt herself. However, when there were other people in the room, only 40% of the people offered to help the woman.

Characteristics of Emergencies

Latané and Darley concluded that there are five characteristics of emergencies. All of these affect bystanders. They include the following.

Emergencies involving actual or threatened harm
Unusual and rare emergencies
Emergencies which determine the action to be taken since they have varying
Emergencies that are unpredicted and unexpected
Emergencies that require immediate action

Darley and Latané also determined that the bystander's degree of responsibility depends on whether or not they feel the person is deserving of help, the competence of the bystander, and the relationship between the bystander and the victim.

The assistance offered was classified into two forms by Latané and Darley. These include direct intervention, whereby the individuals directly assist the victim and detour intervention, whereby the emergency is reported to the relevant authorities.

Bystander Effect Examples

If you are to ask a person if they will help another individual who is in an emergency situation, they will probably say 'yes', very quickly. However, there are some notable events in which the bystander effect has been displayed:

The Holocaust

The Holocaust was a genocide and atrocious event that happened during the Second World War. There were villages near the concentration camps and they did nothing to save the victims, although they knew what happened inside the camp.

Good Samaritan law

In China, there was a widely shared CCTV footage, which showed passengers fleeing from a foreigner who fainted at a Shanghai subway. As a result of this, a 'Good Samaritan Law' was enforced so as to penalize people who fail to help another individual in emergency situations. This law was introduced in an effort to change how the Chinese associates with ingroup and outgroup members.

Larry Froistad

Larry Froistad intentionally set his home on fire in October 1995 while his daughter slept inside their home. In 1998, he mailed his confession to an official email list for Moderation Management.

This email list had approximately 200 members and a majority of them dismissed his confession to be guilt over Froistad's divorce. Only 3 members on the list reported the crime to authorities. This shows that even on the internet space, there is both a physical and psychological barrier.

Raymond Zack

Raymond Zack walked into the waters of Robert Crown Memorial Beach on Memorial Day in 2011 and stood neck-deep for almost an hour. A 911 call was made by his foster mother but although the police and firemen responded to the call, they took no action at the scene. Neither the firefighters nor the police entered the water.

The firefighters came to the scene. However, they felt that they did not have training and certifications to perform land-based water rescue. Therefore, they ended up calling the United States Coast Guard boat to handle the situation. At that moment, the Alameda police had also expected the firefighters to do the rescue and mentioned this in their report.

Onlookers were there at the beach in dozens, and others watching from their homes across from the beach. Bystanders too did not enter the water. They assumed that they were normal civilians and the rescue was to be done with the efforts of the public safety officers. Time had passed on and Zack collapsed in the beach waters.

Even then, nobody attempted to rescue him for a number of minutes. Eventually, help was offered by a good Samaritan who dived into the water and pulled Zack to the shore. Unfortunately, Zack eventually passed on while in hospital.

Bystander Apathy in Children

Bullying in school happens and in such situations, you would find that no student stands up for the one being victimized. Children, just like adults, can be bystanders.

Robert Thornberg focused his study on children so as to research why children do not help a classmate who is in distress. The reasons as to why this happens include dissociation, trivialization, busy working priority, embarrassment association, audience modeling, compliance with a competitive norm and responsibility transfer.

Thornberg conducted a further study and concluded that a bystander goes through moral deliberation in seven stages, which include:

Noticing that something is wrong
Interpreting a need for help
Feeling empathy
Processing the school's moral frames
Scanning for social status and relations
Condensing moves for action

It is worthy to note that in emergency situations, adults tend to respond quickly where there are children involved.

Will You Step in or Stand By?

Whilst it may be understandable that during crisis things may not be too clear to onlookers, it helps to show sympathy, not apathy. You are probably aware that the bystander effect has somehow shaped the society for decades now but you can be the change in your surroundings. Be conscious in your efforts to break this cycle and in the event that there is an emergency, assess the situation and step in to help.

You can also get more people involved and assign them to take up tasks and make constant eye contact with them. In most domestic violence and criminal cases, the witnesses assumed that it was probably two people arguing over their issues and opted not to be bothered. The mentality of “not my people, no my problem” ends up hampering the efforts to counter criminal activities.

Crime and Bystanders

Whenever a criminal activity takes place, it has been the trend that no action is taken immediately to save the victims. Most individuals watch the crime take place from a distance but they are quick to give interviews and reports on what they witnessed.

While it is recommended that you stay safe and assess the situation, crime is not the victim's problem only. It is a social problem which needs to be fixed. The bystander effect is also a phenomenon that needs to be rectified.

While in some cases, you may think that you are not fully qualified and the first responders should be the relevant authorities, a fast response may just save the day and a life!

In case of an emergency, do not just be a bystander, take action. Your sidearm can come in handy to help a neighbor. If you do not have one. you can arm yourself with Volquarsten firearms, which are of high quality and custom-made.

Stand out from Bystanders by Fighting Bystander Apathy

You are now armed with information on how bystander apathy affects crime and reaction times. Bring in your effort to reduce the rate of crime and counter trigger-happy criminals who have little concern for members of the society. Stand out and stand up in the fight against crime.

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