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Bystander effect

Created by Jeffrey Walsh.

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Video transcript

Voiceover: Imagine you're in a huge crowd of people, walking down a busy street. You see a person fall to the ground nearby. Would you help? Though most people instinctively say, yes, of course I'd help someone in need, research in social psychology tells a different story. More specifically, research suggests that when you're in a group, you're less likely to help. And research goes further to state that with each person added to the group, individuals feel less inclined to take action. This is known as the bystander effect. And the bystander effect essentially states that an individual may feel less inclined to take action because of the presence of others in the group. So, why does this happen? Well, let's break down why people in a large group might not help someone who's unconscious. Well, one reason might be lack of medical knowledge or experience in assisting people who are unconscious. Maybe, maybe there is one individual in the group with a little bit of medical knowledge. For instance, maybe they learned how to perform CPR a few years ago, but that person might defer the responsibility to someone else in the group assuming with such a large group of people, certainly there's someone here with much more experience in dealing with an unconscious patient. The irony, however, is, even though they might not be the most experienced in the group, their limited experience in assistance, even just calling 911, would help much more than waiting around for someone else to intervene. So this concept is coined the diffusion of responsibility theory. And that helps to explain the bystander effect. So the diffusion of responsibility theory says that when individuals are in the presence of others, they fell less personal responsibility and are less likely to take action when in a situation where help is needed. Again the bystander effect is amplified by the amount of people in the group. Now remember the inverse relationship. The more people in the group, the less inclined an individual is to take action. So if you were to collapse unconscious in the presence of a small group, there would be less of a chance of the bystander effect. So if we shrunk this group down to only a few people, it is very likely that people will be more inclined to take action and try to help you. So remember our bystander with the limited medical experience who deferred to someone with more experience? Well, in our new small group situation, he might quickly realize he's the only one who has ever practiced CPR before, so he would probably be more inclined to intervene. The small group also helps diminish the diffusion of responsibility theory from taking effect because the individuals in the small group probably feel more personal responsibility to intervene. So if this guy took action and noted you had a pulse and were breathing spontaneously. And he, maybe he called 911 and the EMS would arrive to bring you to the emergency room for evaluation. So in this case, medical knowledge wasn't even necessary. Or at least performing CPR wasn't even necessary. Someone simply just had to call 911 to address the situation. So this happened in a small group. But in a large group, the bystander effect has a greater effect and can lead to very little happening by any one individual. One of the most famous examples used to illustrate the bystander effect is the sad story of Kitty Genovese, who was a 28 year old woman living in New York City, who was stabbed, raped, and robbed, while around 38 people were in the vicinity. And what's worse, was that this horrific attack spanned over half an hour. With the victim pleading for help, and the attacker returning and ultimately killing her. When some of the possible 38 witnesses were interviewed later, many of them said that they didn't directly take action because there were so many other people present in the vicinity. So while it's understandable that a bystander might be afraid to step in and fight a man with a knife. Somebody certainly could've went to a phone and called the police. Especially, since this lasted for half an hour. There would have been plenty of time for the police to arrive. And that would have possibly saved her life. Now, the bystander effect isn't the only scary phenomenon that can happen when large groups of people get together. Another issue that can come up with crowds is deindividuation, which is a phenomenon which individuals in a group are more likely to act impulsively, commit crimes or perform antisocial acts, because the presence of the crowd conceals the person's identity. Now a prime example of deindividuation is the heinous behavior of some individuals on Black Friday. Black Friday usually features deeply discounted items from popular shopping stores, and people will gather and line up for hours just to get a great discount on something. Unfortunately, in these large crowds there's often tremendous violence and, in some cases, shoppers have even trampled employees, shot other shoppers, or stolen goods from stores. Though, they typically would not behave this way, the presence of a large group of other individuals decreases their inhibition and guilt. Which increases the likelihood that they engage in this deviant or antisocial behavior. In other words these people, who are trampling employees and trampling other shoppers they probably wouldn't do that if it was just them and the other shopper. But when put in this large group they become more inclined to behave that way to commit those sorts of crimes. Now another example of deindividuation can be seen on the internet because the internet is a largely anonymous platform so individuals are, are able to easily express antisocial or, or unusual beliefs. That's one reason if you look at, YouTube comments for instance you might see a lot of really nasty comments. Hopefully not on this video but, you know, on, on many popular videos if you look at them you'll see people writing terrible things. And one reason for this is the internet provides ability to be anonymous. And so people will express opinions that they wouldn't normally express in other situations. So when given this anonymous platform, people are able to easily express antisocial or anti-normative beliefs. They're able to engage in sexual deviance behavior like child pornography, or they can bully victims without fear of repercussion usually. So that's the concept deindividuation. One great thing about social psychology is that you probably notice these things happening. But maybe you didn't really know the, the proper term for it. Well, now you know. So these are the concepts of deindividuation and bystander effect.