What Is the Bystander Effect?

The bystander effect occurs when the presence of others hinders an individual from intervening in an emergency situation. Social psychologists Bibb Latané and John Darley popularized the concept following the infamous 1964 Kitty Genovese murder in Kew Gardens, New York. Genovese was stabbed to death outside her apartment three times, while bystanders who observed the crime did not step in to assist or call the police. Latané and Darley attributed the bystander effect to the diffusion of responsibility (onlookers are more likely to intervene if there are few or no other witnesses) and social influence (individuals in a group monitor the behavior of those around them to determine how to act). In Genovese's case, each onlooker concluded from their neighbors' inaction that their own personal help was not needed.

Recent Posts on Bystander Effect

The Bystander Effect

By Rosemary K.M. Sword on February 27, 2015 in The Time Cure
We’d all like to think that when we see something bad happening that we’d step forward to render aid. But in reality most of us don’t. And although some people won’t take the initiative to help, they will take the time to photograph or videotape the event and post it on the internet. Why?

NO MORE: 7 Lessons from the Inside

By Mitch Abrams Psy.D. on February 01, 2015 in Sports Transgressions
With the long overdue awareness of dating and sexual violence finally being raised with No More public service announcements and greater media attention in general, this offers some recommendations to help prevention really hit its mark.

Odd Couple House Mates

By Joan Ullman M.A. on January 30, 2015 in Uncharted Customs
Decades ago intergenerational living was widespread, ofen for economic reason. From the mid-1950s, nuclear families became the norm. Today's convulsive economic upheaval has seen a return of multi-generational housing situations. And as my recent experience with my grandson attests, while it may not be a familar phenomenom, it definitely has its pluses for young and old.

End Bullying! Responding to Cruelty in Our Culture

Have you or someone you love been a target of bullying? How will media affect attitudes toward bullying and other cruelty? Authors and actors analyze a range of bullying behaviors as the Pop Culture Anti-Bullying Coalition delivers a powerful discussion on how to overcome bullying, including strategies to create witnesses and allies out of bystanders.

Heroism Conference: The Hero Round Table with Phil Zimbardo

The cross-disciplinary Hero Round Table conference will look at heroism in today's world. Program content includes presentations by experts from a variety of areas as well as hour-long breakout sessions and academic poster sessions. Dr. Phil Zimbardo, founder of the Heroic Imagination Project, discusses what it takes to rise above the situation to do the right thing.

Kicking Bullying to the Curb!

Parents and children both are seeking answers to how they can stop the seemingly ubiquitous problem of bullying. Below, I offer some ideas for what parents can do, what we can tell our children, and finally some thoughts on the impact of bullying on mental health.

Why Are There So Few Heroes?

Our world is rife with poverty, famine, violence, natural disasters, and tragic accidents. We need heroes, but where are they?

Finding Hope Amid the Tragedy of Flight MH370

By Dana Klisanin Ph.D. on March 24, 2014 in Digital Altruism
Although the search for flight MH370 has ended in tragedy, the search itself has been an incredible mirror of some of humanity’s greatest qualities. Rather than behaving as bystanders, over 3 million people joined the search online via Digital Globe. Their actions, in tandem with an international team of responders, is helping to expand our understanding of heroism.

The 1964 Kitty Genovese Tragedy: What Have We Learned?

"What have we learned in the past 50 years since March 13, 1964, when young Kitty Genovese was murdered in front of neighbors who did nothing to help her?" Even today, several new books are appearing, to reveal new facts about Ms. Genovese' iconic death and little-known life. This essay reviews the many diverse impacts on society and the behavioral sciences.

Why We Tolerate Bullying, Hazing, and Abuse

Why is bullying in schools and in the workplace an ongoing problem? How about hazing in team sports? What about instances of physical and sexual abuse? Why don’t people intervene?

The Most Famous Murder We Were All Lied to About

By Susan K Perry Ph.D. on March 08, 2014 in Creating in Flow
Fifty years ago, Kitty Genovese was 29 when she was viciously assaulted and stabbed to death. Psychology textbooks all teach about the crime, as it led to the theory of “the bystander effect.” Now we can read a much fuller version of the whole story in a compelling new book.

Four Ways to Ask for, and Get, Your Favors Granted

There are times in life when you need someone to do something for you. The question is how to ask for a favor in way that ensures you’ll get that help. The 4 basic ingredients to having a favor granted are yours for the taking.

Empathy, Compassion, Responsibility in Altruism and Heroism

Empathy and more recently compassion have been found important motivators of caring, helping, altruism, active bystandership, and heroism. But many studies have assessed the feeling of and belief in one's responsibility to help others, sometimes as an aspect of a "prosocial value orientation," which have shown it to be a powerful motivators of helping, and non-aggression.

Sinner or Saint? 7 Steps to Harness Your Inner Angel

By Emma M. Seppälä Ph.D. on October 31, 2013 in Feeling It
Sinner one moment, Angel the next? Here's how to gain control.

Why Kids Choose Not to Intervene During Bullying Situations

It’s worth taking extra time to acknowledge that stopping bullying is not as easy as it sounds on a tip sheet. For kids, who are often in the very best position to stop the bullying that occurs in their midst, the barriers to intervention are very real and quite formidable.

Psychology of Volunteering

Why do people (fail to) volunteer? Psychology has too many answers. Help me whittle down the number.

Frutti di Bosco

Some thoughts fructify when the mind wanders.

Murder Map, Part II

On part 2 of my "Kalifornia" tour, I focus on some of the most provocative tales of Manhattan, including some that made psychological history.

Your Helping Instincts May Be Stronger Than You Realize

Reaching out to help others in need may be one of our most basic human tendencies. Despite the attention that psychology gives to the bystander effect, or the tendency to ignore others in distress, research on small children shows that starting at a very early age, most of us are eager and willing helpers.

Bystanders and Heroes: The Dance of Defiance and Conformity

By Noam Shpancer Ph.D. on December 26, 2012 in Insight Therapy
The presence of others affects our behavior, but not always in the same way. The presence of others may inhibit helping behavior. At other times, however, it may enable and sustain heroic efforts.

Do You Really Need To Say That?: When To Shut Up

By Jim Davies Ph.D. on December 14, 2012 in The Science of Imagination
Should you be more reluctant to speak when there are lots of people around?

The Top 10 Psychology Myths

Read the truth about psychology's most famous legends, including whether Skinner's daughter was raised in a "Skinner box," and whether déjà vu really exists. This Top 10 list will help you join the psychology myth-buster team.

What Would You Do if You Were Witness to Child Abuse?

Mike McQueary, one of the central figures in the Penn State scandal, has been vilified for not going to the police directly after walking in on child abuse in the locker rooms of Penn State. He should have acted differently, we scorn, thinking: I would have acted differently. Think again.

Paterno Surprise Reflects Ignoring the Power of the Situation

By Allen R McConnell Ph.D. on November 10, 2011 in The Social Self
How could Joe Paterno, viewed as one of the few shining examples of a man who "did things right" get it so wrong and not respond better to sexual assault allegations by his own assistant coach? Repeatedly, social psychology has shown the importance of the power of the situation. In short, good people can do bad things when placed in particular circumstances.

Why We Stand By And Don't Help

By Ray Williams on October 24, 2011 in Wired for Success
Is callousness to human suffering increasing?

Why Crowds Make Us Callous

By Sam Sommers on October 19, 2011 in Science Of Small Talk
It happens, it would seem, with the regularity of the new moon. Unfortunately, every month or so a news story captures local, national, or even global attention because of the apparent indifference of a crowd of people. This week it's the very sad story of a toddler at a market in China who was gravely injured by a hit-and-run driver...

We Are All Yueyue

By Wednesday Martin Ph.D. on October 19, 2011 in Stepmonster
Yueyue, a 2-year-old hit-and-run victim left for dead and ignored by more than a dozen passerby in Guandong province, China, is both an innocent child-victim, and a symbol of the West's rising anxiety about What's Next.

Handling emergencies: A psychological first-aid kit

Next time you're in an emergency, here's a psychological first aid kit to manage out-of-control emotions fear to anxiety to anger and frustration.

A Cop, a Chase, and a Fight: Inattentional Blindness on the Beat

By Ira Hyman on June 16, 2011 in Mental Mishaps
Could a cop run past an assault and fail to notice it? When Kenny Conley, a Boston police officer, was chasing a shooting suspect, he ran past a brutal assault. Other cops were attacking someone they mistakenly believed was involved in the crime. Conley was eventually asked to testify about what he saw of the police assault. He claimed he saw nothing.