Saturday, March 15, 2008

The Bystander Effect in our daily lives.

The Bystander Effect in our daily lives.

Catherine Susan Genovese, commonly known as Kitty Genovese, was a New York City woman who was stabbed to death near her home in the Kew Gardens section of Queens, New York. The circumstances of her murder and the apparent reaction of her neighbors were reported by a newspaper article published two weeks later and prompted investigation into the psychological phenomenon that became known as the bystander effect or "Genovese syndrome. For more reading on the case, please click here.

The bystander effect (also known as bystander apathy, Genovese syndrome, diffused responsibility or bystander intervention) is a psychological phenomenon in which an individual will intervene in an emergency goes down as the number of bystanders increases.

The bystander effect also suggests that living in large cities may foster bystander apathy. For example, residents of large cities may generally feel less responsible for the well-being of strangers than residents of small cities, because most setting in the large city have many people present.

Recently, there was a case in Singapore that “Police shot dead murder suspect in Outram MRT”. The firing incident triggered off debate over should the police office fire in that situation. However, many neglected that fact that the suspect allegedly stabbed an odd-job worker to death in a hawker centre as reported in the paper. Extracted from StraitsTimes.

Shall the suspect really had allegedly stab a man in a public place like hawker centre, its puzzled me as no one offered help to the man or stop the suspect when he literally perform such an act in the eyes of the wide public.

A personal view was that we shouldn’t put all the responsibility onto the police officer and the suspect, but everyone who were present at the scene of murder were partly responsible too. Wasn’t it part of our responsibility to prevent a crime from happening too? Or it was just the responsibility of the police. One could debate that the suspect was holding a weapon, hence it’s unwise or dangerous to interfere physically. However, if the public was active, merely shouting or halting at the suspect by a handful of people might send him fleeing off before he could commit the crime or deliver the fatal blow. The above statement is an assumption of my own.

Researches had suggested that bystanders tend not to intervene in emergency, as they lack the ability to help, such as when they do not know how to administer CPR to an apparent heart attack victim.

However, i feel that bystander effect does not only occur in emergency but also in minor event of our daily life. A possible explanation of this could be the diffusion of responsibility. In situation with others present, individual assume that someone else is going to intervene and so they each individually refrain from doing so and feel less responsible.

A typical example would be every morning we see a elder or a pregnant lady on the train or bus, how many of us actually give up the seat to them on first though or rather assume and wait for other passenger to do so.

The effect of bystanders effect and diffusion of responsibility had slowly contaminated our basic moral value on lending an helping hand. An personal viewpoint was we need to foster better and more helping behavior in the community before bystanders effect become a part of our daily lives.


Louis and friends said...

Hi. Its amazing you can dig up this article. I only saw the information at Discovery channel. Anyway, your article prompted me to think about this: Imagine when the person is stabbing the odd job worker and a gentlemen suddenly came flying out stopping his attack. Will this change the situation? Perhaps by having one gentleman coming out to stop the man, other will follow because they are being leaded by the person? I believe why this type of thing happen may be because we wanted to become law abiding citizens. Of course your reason sounded logical too. Perhaps my theories may be able to support yours. In our mind, we are being incorporated as having to follow the rules about not fighting, not this not that. Therefore, it sometimes make us difficult to think out of the box and react appropriately to circumstances and sometimes, this lead to dire consequences as to the news of the lady being killed while 37 people are watching. I will end this commment on a parting shot: DO YOU THINK THIS SITUATION CAN BE PREVENTED IF THE GOVERNMENT ENACT A LAW TO SAY THAT THOSE PEOPLE WHO DID NOT HELP WILL ALSO BE PROSECUTED UNDER SOME ACT?

dax said...

Im not sure whether asking people to try to stop the attacker in a murder situation will help. Most often, the helper end up being the victim. Im not saying that we just stand there and do nothing, but it is important to recognise the limitation of our power. We can help by calling police, or sending them to a nearby hospital, but definitely not to try to be hero by trying to apprehend the murderer.

Frank said...


Lending a helping hand is a good thing. However, at times a helping hand may be disastrous (i.e more innocents killed in the process?)

I think that having a law like what louis and friends mention,have both ambivalent reactions towards Bystander effect. For instance, having such a law might help, as people will be alert and definitely forced to help. On the other hand,fear is instilled onto the people by such a law. Will they turn up on the street, or will it lead to a town where everybody shuts doors to prevent bumping into a troublesome situation.


In this day the only reason people pull out their phones isn't to call help its to capture video or pictures of the attack or thing going on that needs attention ... Its a Damn shame. One comment about being hero. That someone posted I found to be a copout. Too many sheep seems like no leaders. I know me personally if I were to be present at one of these viewer only episodes... I would raise my voice. And of anyone around me had balls would sure follow. U don't have to intervene physically but to project your opinion of an unjust act would maybe get their attention. To watch only shows acceptance ... Smdh the f%;:# up world we live in today... Shame.