Of the concepts learned in the social psychology chapter of this book, one of the most potentially dangerous phenomena is the "bystander effect", in which a situation occurs where immediate intervention or attention needs to occur, but due various reasons, witnesses do not provide or send for assistance. The book provides two shocking anecdotes, one of a young woman being stabbed multiple times at night over a 35-minute time span with several people watching the event unfold in their apartments, but the woman succumbed to the blood loss and the perpetrator fled well before anyone called the police. The other chilling story occurred in 2009 when as many as 20 bystanders simply stared while a teenage girl was gang-raped for over two hours outside a school dance, where the police weren't summoned at all.
NBC discussed a study that shocked many of those involved in the social psychology experiment. A man seized a young girl at a busy intersection pretending to be her father, and the girl would scream for help and exclaim that the man was not her parent. The clip displayed that people would simply walk by despite the ongoing distress of the girl. It was only after twenty minutes that two young men who passed by decided to turn around and confront the kidnapper.
Why do such tragic events occur, despite overwhelming evidence that something is seriously wrong? One reason could be pluralistic ignorance, where a witness assumes no one perceives the situation as they do. They see others walk by the attempted kidnapping, and think the others know the situation does not need to be confronted, so those who are hesitant to intervene are more reluctant to avoid looking foolish. This phenomenon is perhaps even more valid considering how ambiguous the NBC experiment was; the child could simply be disobedient to her father and is desperately trying to get out of his grasp.
Another reason for the bystander effect to occur is what is coined the diffusion of responsibility: the presence of other people makes each person feel less responsible for the outcome. So witnesses to this kidnapping may rationalize that even if that was a genuine kidnapping, their lack of intervention would seem trivial compared to the other multitudes of people who simply pass by as well.
When I was working at Cub Foods, several people (including myself) witnessed a man who was probably intoxicated drive his car into the cart station and other cars in the parking lot, then drive away as fast as he could. Fortunately, the bystander effect did not occur as several people called the police immediately after the man fled, and one jumped into his car to chase after the man.