The Bystander Effect

1813 words 8 pages
‘The Bystander Effect’

Lily is thirteen years old and tall for her age. One afternoon, she confronts a suspicious looking stranger near a young girl playing in the local park. The stranger takes to his heels when Lily challenges him. Lily’s bravery is the talk of the neighbourhood. On learning of this, a student who is studying social psychology makes the comment: It’s just as well that Lily’s usual playmates were not around or that little girl might not have received any help.
(Vaughan and Hogg, 2005, p.358)

When it comes to helping others, studies have uncovered an apparent paradox in social psychology called the ‘bystander effect’ (Weiten 2007, p.684). The bystander effect is a theory of pro-social or helping behaviour
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How then do we explain the Genovese case when thirty-eight people could have used a telephone to help on that fateful day, without endangering themselves? Does their in-action make these people “morally culpable” anyway? Perhaps public awareness and education can prevent these types of tragedies in the future.

In regards to the scenario, we can assume that Lily had already interpreted the young girl’s apparent situation with the stranger as outside of social norms and the man obviously did not appear to be her father or anyone familiar. In ambiguous situations people will often rely on “social cues” which underlies the theory of social proof where people ‘often take their cues from others when deciding what to think or how to behave in a given situation, especially when they are unsure about what to think or do’ (Silk, 2005). The young girl also seemed to be an innocent victim who did not appear to have caused any trouble herself. Batson (cited in Gilbert et al 1998, p. 282) believes that people are much more likely to help others they judge to be innocent victims than those they believe have brought their problems on themselves. Lily’s reaction to social influence in this case tells us it is likely Lily experienced enough empathic understanding to directly confront the perpetrator in the young girls defence based on her own beliefs.

However, if we consider the notion that the victim was not a young girl but perhaps a different gender,


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