Many times, in public places, if a person is in distress, people generally tend to stand and observe. They do not intervene and help the person. This is known as the bystander effect. In this article, I will be discussing bystander effect, and how you can work towards overcoming this.
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Understanding bystander effect
The bystander effect primarily occurs when other people’s presence discourages a person from helping another human being in distress. The person in distress may be facing an accident, assault, or any other kind of crime. However, bystanders just stand and watch the crime take place instead of helping the person who is suffering. People are quicker to take action if others around them are also proactive in a situation of crisis.
The concept of bystander effect was popularized by the social psychologist John Darley and Bib Latané. This effect came into focus after the infamous murder of Kitty Genovese which took place in New York City in the year 1964. According to reports, the 28-year-old woman was stabbed to death right outside her apartment. While Kitty was the victim of this heinous crime, many people watched the show but did not call the police or assist kitty.
The bystander effect has primarily been attributed to the presence of two factors: social influence and diffusion of responsibility.
Diffusion of responsibility
Diffusion of responsibility primarily means that when many people are present during a crisis, the more they feel that it is the responsibility of the other person to take the action. People keep passing over the mantle of help to the other person instead of taking an active part in helping the victim themselves.
Social influence indicates that people usually see the behavior of those around them as a parameter of understanding how they should act or respond. When others in the environment refuse to help the victim, the bystander also feels that it is not their responsibility to take action.
What is the reason behind the bystander effect?
When a crisis occurs, it is most often chaotic and leaves people befuddled. Many times, the onlookers even fail to realize that it is a situation where they need to jump in and help. In the case of Kitty, most people assumed that it was a lover’s quarrel going on. They did not realize that a person was being stabbed to death. Thus, one of the reasons behind people not responding in case of a crisis is them not realizing that it is a crisis in the first place.
As I mentioned above, most often, situations of crisis cause chaos. For a moment, people start to feel numb and do not know how to react. However, when their senses start to come back, they start to wonder what would be the right response in such a situation. For this, they look at their peers or other onlookers. If one person or a group of people demonstrate an active mentality and go on to help the person in crisis, more people are likely to join. However, when a person is confused, they look to others for help. If others do not react to the situation, the bystander is likely to feel that it is a situation that does not require any action to be taken on their part.
There is one exception to this rule. If the onlookers are under the influence of substance abuse, they are not likely even process the situation that is occurring right in front of them. Even if they understand that the person is in crisis and needs help, they may be under the influence too much to be able to help or even call for help.
Overcoming the bystander effect
The bystander effect does not help the victim or society in general. This is something that needs to change. In this article, I will focus on some factors that can help people overcome the bystander effect and be more proactive in situation situations of crisis.
The bystander effect has a negative impact on altruism, heroism, and pro-social behavior. The latest studies on bystander effects have shown that certain factors can help people become more active and engage in less bystander behavior. Some of these factors are as follows
Helping the witness behavior
A lot of the time, the bystander effect happens because of the social setting. People respond to what they see around them. If they see that other people are not helping the person who is hurt or is getting bullied, they are not likely to respond as well. However, if they see a few people being active and helping out the person in need, more people are likely to jump in.
Let’s understand this with an example. Suppose you noticed a street artist performing tricks. Many people stand around to witness the tricks. Once the act is over, the artist collects money in his hat. You notice that everyone standing gives money to the artist as a symbol of their appreciation. Thus, you feel obliged to give the artist money as well.
Being more observant
One of the primary reasons the bystander effect occurs is that people do not pay enough attention to their surroundings. In most cases, by the time people realize that something is going on that needs their attention and possibly help, it is too late. Therefore, instead of relying on others to start acting, rely on yourself and try to be more observant of your surroundings. Ask yourself this, “what would you want others to do if you were the victim stuck in a difficult situation? If the situation is ambiguous, it can make it hard for a person to identify if they need to help the victim or not.
People have a tendency to question themselves. They tend to question their actions, moves, and sometimes even their thinking process. Therefore, if a person needs help and everyone else at the scene is not interested in helping, there is a chance that the bystander may also feel peer pressure to not help the victim. People tend to think that there is a reason behind the way others are acting. This makes the person confused as to how they should be responding to the situation.
Therefore, the best way to become a more active and less passive person in a situation of crisis is to rely on yourself and not on others. Try to be more attuned to your surroundings and stay alert. This will help you decide how you should react in case of a difficult situation.
Gather knowledge and skills
Another reason why people don’t help a person in need is that they don’t know how. Suppose, there is a car crash. The victim of the crash is conscious but injured. You are standing at a nearby shop. However, you do not have a phone or money in your pocket to flag down a cab to help the injured person. Under such conditions, you may feel helpless and not understand how to help the person in need. However, if you had the knowledge of first aid and basic CPR training, in case of an emergency you would feel more prepared and competent to deal with the situation.
Even if you do not have the money or the phone to help the victim, you can take charge and ask others to help you out by calling 911. There is nothing as powerful as knowledge. If you have the right knowledge, you can take charge and help the people who are in need in a crisis situation.
Research has often shown that people are more likely to be proactive if they are feeling guilty. One of the examples is survivor guilt. If a person has been through a traumatic event and survived when others have not been so fortunate, they feel the need to help others in difficult situations. Thus, amongst the onlookers, a person who has previously survived a difficult situation is more likely to help the victim than someone who has not been through something similar.
For the sake of relationships
It is human nature to help those whom we know rather than help someone whom we don’t know at all. One of the causes behind the bystander effect occurring is that the person does not know the victim. The person stuck in a difficult situation can gauge this step by making small talk with the bystander. This type of behavior can encourage the development of a relationship between the bystander and the This enhances the chances of the bystander helping the victim. If you ever get stuck in a situation where you need help from a person in the crowd, single out someone. Make eye contact, and ask them for assistance. Directly ask one person to help you out. Do not try to make a general plea. That can confuse people and there’s a chance that no one may come forward to help you.
Putting yourself in other’s shoes
One way to boost your empathy, compassion, and drive to help others stuck in a tough situation is to actually imagine being yourself stuck in that situation. Putting yourself in other shoes is a great motivator. It can really help you get into the frame of mind of helping someone else. If you see someone stuck in a difficult situation and asking for help, imagine how would you like to be treated if you were the victim. This will help you be more proactive and help someone in need.
Understanding that others deserve help
Many times, people don’t realize that the other person stuck in a difficult situation is deserving of their help. There is a higher chance of a bystander helping in person if they feel that the victim deserves their help. In a social setting, people are more likely to help a person with money who has recently lost their wallet instead of someone who is wearing shabby clothes, looks homeless. The bystanders may attribute the homeless-looking person as someone who has already spent all of their money. They may not believe instead of believing that the person lost their wallet.
The feeling of doing something good
The feeling that you’ve done something good for another person can be a huge motivator to help others in need. If you are stuck in a miserable situation in your life, you are less likely to help others. Studies have shown that people who are successful in their life are more likely to lend a helping hand. There are many factors that could contribute to this feel-good feeling. Listening to your favorite music, completing a project, having a good day at work, etc. can make you feel good. There is a higher chance that you will help someone in need when you are feeling good yourself. This is known as the feel-good effect.
The bystander effect happens when people do not help a person in crisis. They are either unaware of how to act, or rely on others to proceed so that they can follow. They may also be stuck in a helpless and powerless situation. There are several ways you can deal with overcoming the bystander effect. You can increase your knowledge and learn first aid. Knowing how to act in a difficult situation boosts the likelihood of a person helping others in need. The alternate methods are putting yourself in others’ shoes, being proactive, observant, and explaining to yourself that others deserve help too.
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Have you ever faced the bystander effect? How did you overcome the problem? Please share your experiences in the comment section below this blog post. Your experiences and lessons from the past can help others to be better and reach out for the help they deserve. Let’s destigmatize mental health and make this world a better place for everyone.
See you in my next blog post
Frequently Asked Questions
Bystanders tend to ignore someone who appears to be in distress because they assume that others will help. This means that if there is a problem, people may not notice it until it is too late.
Why is bystander effect dangerous?
Bystanders often don’t help because they feel helpless or afraid of being blamed if something goes wrong. In fact, bystanders may actually increase the risk of harm by not intervening when someone needs help.
Yes, bystander effects are very real. In fact, they are so real that we often don’t notice them. For example, if someone is being attacked by another person, bystanders may not intervene because they feel like they would only make things worse.
In order to combat the bystander effect, we need to understand why it happens. It is because people tend to avoid helping others when they feel like they don’t know enough about the situation. So if you want to help someone who needs help, try to learn as much as possible about the situation before trying to help.
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