The Bystander Effect: Diffusion of Responsibility


The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch them without doing anything. Albert Einstien

In our daily life, we read, face and listen different types of cases in road, office and other countries and love to speak like that there was so many people but no one came for help or after any road accident victim needed help and that time we were looking at each other and think ,who will take initiative. When victim died then we again start thinking like that  there was so many people but no one came for help. But why do we not think like that “that was also my responsibility.. I could also help but couldn’t.” Do you ever think about whats the psychology behind this?  

We love to make live video or describe the incident instead of help to any one. Our interest is very less for helping anyone. In psychology, there is a phenomenon called the Bystander Effect. Essentially, individuals are less likely to offer help to a victim when other people are present.

Murdered story of Kitty Genovese (Queens in 1964) was discoverer of Bystander Effect


Moseley murdered Kitty Genovese in Queens in 1964 in one of the most infamous murder cases in modern times.The horrific crime gained worldwide attention largely because of a New York Times article that said “38 respectable, law-abiding citizens” did nothing while Moseley attacked Kitty Genovese on three separate occasions.

toorIn the early morning hours of March 13, 1964, Kitty Genovese parked her red Fiat in a parking lot and began walking to her apartment in Kew Gardens, a neighborhood in Brooklyn. She heard footsteps behind her and tried to run, but she was caught by an attacker, knocked to the ground, and stabbed two times. Someone from a nearby building yelled out, “Leave that girl alone.” The man ran. The wounds were not fatal. Someone called the police, and many others heard the commotion. However, when the attacker sensed that no help was imminent, he returned, stabbing her several more times, and raping her before fleeing. This gruesome crime became legend when the New York Times erroneously reported that 38 of Kitty’s neighbor’s had witnessed the attacked and had chosen to do nothing.

The bystander effect was first demonstrated in the laboratory by John M. Darley and Bibb Latané in 1968 when they were influenced by this heart touching story.

The reasons behind the Bystander Effect

Researchers have found several underlying causes for the Bystander Effect. They include:

  • Ambiguity and consequences –When it is uncertain that someone needs help, the response rates are much lower and the response times are much higher, when it is clear that someone needs help. If anybody shouted for help, showed highest response.
  • Understanding of environment- When somebody is not aware about the environment or circumstances.  like now -a – day if you are on road then your eyes and attention mostly focus on mobile.
  • Diffusion of responsibility- When people think like that someone else is responsible for that situation, they are far less likely to intervene. Essentially, when it is someone else’s responsibility, they are less likely to act.

Latané and Darley’s Model of Helping

To better understand the processes of helping in an emergency, Latané and Darley developed a model of helping that took into consideration the important role of the social situation.

This model describes the mind theory in emergency condition, so many question arise in our mind before taking action. Research found that number of people is directly proportional to the diffusion of responsibility. If one person present during incident than will help. Otherwise increasing quantity of people will start looking faces of each other.

Garcia et al. (2002)Garcia, S. M., Weaver, K., Moskowitz, G. B., & Darley, J. M. (2002). Crowded minds: The implicit bystander effect. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 83(4), 843–853. found that the presence of others reduced helping, even when those others were only imagined.

How to Overcome the Bystander Effect


  • Good observer

Need to be a good observer. If we are on road and watching mobile than we can’t observe anything which are going around. Lack of attention can be harmful for you or someone.

  • Quick Action

Sometimes we waste all time to looking other face or take more time to decide that we should go not. So believe yourself and take quick action. Your quick action can be save a life.

  • Don’t judge relationship

An important factor of our thought, Victim has no relation with us. So why should we go? If victim is our own then  we will not take a minute and immediately we come in form. We are human being so don’t think like that.

A small ant takes care of other insect’s egg. They don’t know differentiation between their own and other. Then why we can’t?

  • Read epic stories for building willpower

Strong willpower can make superhero. We have no extraordinary power but willpower can be done everything. Stories of superheroes tell us they didn’t wait for helping anyone. Quick decision and good observation can make us superhero.

We are meant not to simply love the stories of Star Trek, but to live them. When humanity decides to truly do that, what a different world it will be.

Bottom line

The psychology behind the Bystander Effect is very real, but even small amounts of training and a little situational awareness make it possible for heroes to emerge everyday.

“The Bystander Effect can be reversed by means of cues that raise public self-awareness in social settings,” the researchers said.


One response to “The Bystander Effect: Diffusion of Responsibility”

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