The Bystander Effect. When asked if you would respond to an emergency if it happened in front of you most people would say that they would without hesitation. But is this true? Studies by Darley, Latané et al showed that people are much more likely to seek or offer help during an emergency when they were alone than when they were in a group. Darley and Latané define two major factors that explain this bystander effect (or bystander nonintervention); pluralistic ignorance and diffusion of responsibility. Pluralistic ignorance refers to a person assuming that they are the only person to perceive an event a certain way, such as an emergency. Diffusion of responsibility refers to feeling less responsible for the outcome due to the presence of others. When considering these two factors it is easier to see just why individuals who would ordinarily help without hesitation during an emergency choose to ignore someone in need if there are many other people around at the time.
This subject of the bystander effect (or situations where the bystander effect does NOT occur) became very much reality for me this past weekend. After attending an event several of my friends and I witnessed an accident. Before describing what happened I will preface this by saying that NO ONE was seriously hurt and police and an ambulance were on the scene within minutes.
A girl was j-walking across the street with her friend and she was clipped by an oncoming car (who had a green light). Neither my friends or I actually saw her get hit but we heard it and saw her fall to the ground. Immediately after she fell, several bystanders ran into the street to help her and to block/redirect traffic. One of my friends immediately called the police (who were close by due to the event we had just come from) and the rest of us waited until they, and the ambulance arrived. In this case, the negative bystander effect was not present. There was no hesitation on the part of anyone who rushed to help the girl; some people tried to comfort her, people brought jackets for her under her head, one woman ran over with an umbrella (it was raining), and others redirected traffic. This group of people worked together to take care of her until she was attended to by the paramedics. In this case, I would argue that the bystander effect was minimal and, instead, that the situation was recognized as an emergency by bystanders and they reacted positively by helping the girl until the paramedics arrived.
An interesting side note: one woman who arrived about a minute after the accident happened was attempting to help (it seemed like she might know the girl) but her actions were actually endangering herself. Even though the girl she was trying to help had just gotten hit by a car, the woman was running back and forth through traffic, weaving in and out of cars and even almost got herself hit by the ambulance. Could there be a psychological explanation for this dangerous and irrational behavior?