Bystander effect- why you're better off damn near alone.
You’re out for a relaxing Sunday, the weather is perfect, the sun is shining down and warming your face, people are out enjoying their weekend. Nothing gives you pause or cause for concern, there are plenty of people around --why would you have anything to worry about? Suddenly you feel a piercing pain in your lower back, the pain repeats a second time. As you turn and lock eyes with a man you’ve never seen before you recognize he is filled with rage and you see him punching you over and over but the punches aren’t punches they are piercing, ripping lightning bolts of pain.
As you fall to the ground curling into a fetal position you are able to make out the shapes of people standing around watching, some appear to be holding phones out --maybe they are calling for Police? Calling for help? In actuality they are most likely recording the event to their Youtube channel for all to see and comment on in full outrage. Pain and fear fill your mind as you search your mind for what to do next, confusion and chaos set in --why isn’t anyone helping me you think. Your eyes go dim as the light fades and you slip silently into unconsciousness.
In social psychology the phenomenon of bystander effect is when individuals don't offer help or assistance to someone in obvious need. The bystander effect is actually shown to increase with the number of bystanders. The more people are gathered together watching the event, the less the chances are an individual will step out from the crowd and help another individual in need.
Part of the process which weighs heavily on our mental decision making choices is a notion called the diffusion of responsibility. This condition occurs when large groups of people gather together. The greater the number of people, the more an individual's responsibility is diffused amongst the totality of the crowd. Each deindividualized person feels that someone else is better suited to render care. Someone else should be responsible for the person in need- like a friend or family member --in the mind of the onlooker it is common for their decision making cycle to focus on others moral responsibility or obligation to help the person in need --not me.
When a person in need is ignored by several people, the notion spreads throughout the crowd of onlookers. The de-individualized crowd has no stake in rendering aid to the person in need.
Seemingly anonymous now - lost in a crowd of fellow onlookers, the diffused responsibility amongst all present provides for the escape from or the social responsibility of rendering care to a person in need. The crowd has striped individuals of the feeling they are morally obligated to help . If no one else is helping - why should I? I don't know this person, what if they have a disease? This isn't my fight, I don't even know who is right or wrong. It's not worth it to get involved and possibly get hurt, why should I - I don't even know the person!
One noted method to break through to the frozen, disconnected onlookers is to reconnect them to a purpose. Many first-responders, Fire and Law Enforcement; know when arriving on scene they must immediately take control. Military personnel, active and Veterans also understand this mentality of taking action even in the face of crowd mentality and group think. Taking charge and connecting people to a cause can help regain control of disconnected onlookers.
Making eye contact, giving a specific person a specific task. “You, come with me, pull out your phone and dial 911, repeat every word I’m say to the dispatcher. Often times it only take one person to begin the response process allowing others to join in and render aid or help to an injured person.
Don’t be a subject of Groupthink or the Bystander Effect. Do what men and women of courage do --stand up for whats right. If you see someone in need, be the catalyst to break the Bystander Effect. Give those standing around gawking a role to play, take charge as you have before in past situations. Render help in whatever form you feel is necessary based on your training and experience, but just do something, anything. Use of force in a defensive manner is a viable and often times initial first response in rendering aid to someone who may be having physical violence used upon them.
We will look closer into use of force and appropriate responses over the next few blog articles.