What Is the Bystander Effect?

The bystander effect occurs when the presence of others discourages 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 New York City. Genovese was stabbed to death outside her apartment 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 perceived 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

5 Reasons Bad Guys Always Seem to Win (and How to Stop Them)

There are specific psychological reasons why bad people are able to exploit others to their advantage, and part of the problem is our tolerance for bad behavior, and an unwillingness to intervene. There is more that we can do to stop the bad and promote the good.

How to Live With Terrorism: Empowering Bystanders

By Renee Garfinkel Ph.D. on November 20, 2015 Time Out
What can we learn from a week of terror in Paris, Marseilles, Tel Aviv, Beirut and Yolo, Nigeria?

Three Brain Doctors Expose “Untold Story” in “Concussion"

By Harry Kerasidis M.D. on November 17, 2015 Brain Trauma
As audiences worldwide examine the film’s controversial CTE topic, Drs. Daniel G. Amen, Theodore Henderson and Harry Kerasidis, point to advanced treatments and tools available now to battle the brain injury epidemic.

PowerPoint: A Communication Curse?

By William R. Klemm Ph.D. on September 06, 2015 Memory Medic
You do want your ideas remembered don't you?

U.S. Psychology After Torture

By Yosef Brody Ph.D. on August 17, 2015 Future Directions
The APA torture scandal, science, ideology, and the future of psychology

What Differences Do Bystanders Make?

A study in Psychology of Violence found that a witness was present in nearly 2 out of 3 instances of victimization, and that helpful bystanders had long-lasting impacts on the victims.

Where Are The Helpful Bystanders?

A new study in the Journal of Community Psychology finds that social environments—friends, family, and neighbors—all affect how likely a bystander is to step in and help and to stay safe in the process.

Breaking The Bystander Effect in Sports Concussions

We witness concussions frequently, yet from the sidelines and stands, we may gasp or cringe. But we definitely won't do or say anything, right? It's the dreaded "Bystander Effect," that has people stunned still when someone yells, "call 911!" However, I propose every youth sports team in the US empower a "Concussion Coordinator" to solve this problem.

4 Ways You Can Think (and Act) Like a Superhero

What are the factors that cause and enable people to help others? How can we ourselves think and act like superheroes?

Fooling Your Ego

A growing body of research that shows that viewing your life from a psychologically distant vantage point can help you see yourself through kinder, more compassionate eyes.

Tapping Into Your Omniscient Narrator

Writing about yourself in the third person narrative is a remedy for tunnel vision, offering an elevated, compassionate perspective on your life.

What Women Need to Know about the Bystander Effect in Men

The problem of sexual aggression toward female students by their male peers is becoming an increasing matter of concern on college campuses. Alcohol is known to be a risk factor in fueling violence against women but new research shows that sexist attitudes greatly compound the dangers.

Friends or Frenemies? Understanding Bullying in Schools

When kids and parents improperly classify rudeness and mean behavior as bullying, we all run the risk of becoming so sick and tired of hearing the word that this critical safety issue among young people loses its urgency as quickly as it rose to prominence.

Finally! An Internet Response to Cyber-bullying

"HeartMob" will provide an on-line platform for reporting cyber-cruelty.

10 Things You Can Do as a Bystander

Many schools, corporations and organizations offer ‘leadership training’ courses and seminars, yet they fail to teach the skills and strategies required for ‘bystander intervention.’ Here are a few concrete things that bystanders can do:

To Prevent Sexual Violence, Campuses Turn to Bystanders

By Guest Bloggers on March 23, 2015 The Guest Room
To combat attacks on college-aged women, researchers are developing programs to teach incoming students to be better bystanders.

The Bystander Effect

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?

Odd Couple House Mates

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.

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?

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

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.

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 Feeling It
Sinner one moment, Angel the next? Here's how to gain control.

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.