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Social Behavior: We are not as Passive as it Seems to Us

01.08.2019 Author: Psychologist Pavel Khoroshutin
The bystander effect

A new study disputes the famous “bystander effect”

The well-known “bystander effect” (also known as bystander apathy or Genovese syndrome) manifests itself as follows: the more people who are witnesses of an emergency, the less likely any of them will intervene and help the victims. Social psychology has been studying this psychological phenomenon for more than half a century, specifically since 1964. The reason for it was the sad story of Kitty Genovese, who could have been saved from death if not for the passivity of 38 witnesses to her murder. Despite the popularity of this theory, today some studies dispute it. 

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One of the most recent studies took place in three cities – Cape Town (South Africa), Amsterdam (Netherlands) and Lancaster (UK). An international research team analysed video surveillance footage of 219 conflict situations and obtained an unexpectedly impressive result. In 91% of cases, people on the streets intervened in a conflict that did not directly relate to them. Moreover, both individual “witnesses” and groups of people who had not known each other intervened at the same time. Each of these either helped directly, or simply hailed the violators or made gestures in their direction from a distance. 

The conclusion completely contradicts the existing theory of the “bystander effect” and proves that the community is responsive rather than passive. The reliability of the conclusion is also confirmed by the fact that the experiment studied real conflicts, and not situations recreated in laboratory conditions.