Being a Bystander: When is it Dangerous?

Everyone’s been in a crowd. We observe a lot of things as we walk through or stand.

Noises. Light. Smells. Where our other companions are if we aren’t alone.

What about the behavior of others?

Crowded area

Why What Others Do Matters

I’d usually tell you to mind your own and keep moving but in a few cases, that actually may be a bad idea.

Being out in public, alone or with others, requires a lot of thought. Planning on where to sit in a restaurant- for example, my mom won’t sit with her back to the door because she can’t see what’s happening as others come in. Or walking alone after dark- many of us won’t if we don’t have to. I get very apprehensive when walking in parking garages, day or night, but then, I’ve probably listened to too many podcasts.

We can’t control the actions of others, as much as we would like. Sometimes, however, we can try to stop a situation before it happens or gets completely out of hand.

If you’ve ever seen “What Would You Do?”, you may understand my previous sentences. The show is about looking at what you would do in certain situations in public- a domestic dispute, discrimination, a lost and hungry child, and other examples. The people don’t know they are being tested until a certain point.

Obviously, if a fight is occurring, there’s always the chance that others will join, just to get on it. Some even might record it, like you would see on social media or a site like Worldstar. What you don’t see often is someone trying to stop the fight. It takes a lot of courage to step in like that. You’re risking your safety, legal record and potentially your life by doing so.

But what happens when someone doesn’t step in OR ignores what’s going on?


A Psychology Lesson for Today’s Crowds

Let me tell you the story of Kitty Genovese.

Kitty was a young woman living alone in New York City. She was murdered in her own apartment by a man she barely knew. I know this sounds pretty common, but stay with me.

As she was being attacked outside her apartment, neighbors could hear loud noises and screams but nobody, not one single person, bothered to check on her or call the police to report what they were hearing. Kitty fought back, but still died the night of her attack.

When the police finally showed up, they questioned everyone nearby. Most said that they thought someone else would make the phone call to the police that could have potentially saved Kitty’s life. This led to what is called “the bystander effect”- the presence of others discouraging someone from intervening in an emergency situation. The more bystanders that are involved, the less likely it is for someone to provide help. The researchers found that the bystander effect is a combination of two factors: diffusion of responsibility and social influence.

Today, many high schools and colleges promote speaking up when they see something wrong- as the police department in Louisville says, “If you see something, say something.” This can be as simple as asking what is going on or that help is coming, and it may break up the assault or another occurrence. An active bystander is most effective when they assume that they are the only person that will do something.

This information is courtesy of Psychology Today

Photos via Unsplash

What are your thoughts on the bystander effect? Have you ever stepped up in a situation that someone needed help?