The bystander effect Essay

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In the early morning hours of March 13, 1964, twenty-eight year old barmaid Catherine "Kitty" Genovese was murdered and raped on the street in Kew Gardens, New York. The incident did not initially receive much attention until Martin Gansberg's infamous article, "Thirty-Eight Who Saw Murder, Didn't Call the Police", was published in the New York Times two weeks later. In reality, only twelve people witnessed the event yet each did nothing to significantly help Genovese until it was too late. The Genovese murder has become the definitive example of the "bystander effect", the social phenomenon in which individuals are less likely to help someone in distress if there are other people present. The bystander effect occurs wherever there is…show more content…
People have a tendency, known as social proof, to believe that others' interpretation of the ambiguous situation is more accurate than their own. Hence, a lack of response by others leads them to conclude that the situation is not an emergency and that response is not warranted. Finally, empirical evidence has shown that the bystander effect is negated when the situation is clearly recognized as an emergency. In a 1976 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Lance Shotland and Margaret Straw illustrated that when people witnessed a fight between a man and a woman that they believed to be strangers to each other, they intervened 65 percent of the time. Thus, people often do not respond appropriately to an emergency situation because the situation is unclear to them and as a result, they have misinterpreted it as a non-emergency based on their own past experience or social cues taken from others.

The bystander effect also arises from a diffusion of responsibility as each bystander can better rationalize his or her lack of action. In some cases, people assume that in a large group, there will be someone else that is more qualified to help and therefore, each person feels less obligated to act. For example, a doctor is far more qualified to provide medical assistance to a victim and likewise, a police officer or stronger-bodied man can better subdue a perpetrator. If the crowd of bystanders is large,
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