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At a boating lake in New York on August 21, 1993, a nine year old girl named Naima
Quaghmiri fell out of a boat in the middle of the shallow lake and noisily drowned. The other girl in the boat, a year or two older, attempted to hold her above the water’s surface, but failed, while approximately two hundred witnesses looked on (Gantt & Williams, 2002). One even made a video recording of it. Currently, there is no federal law requiring citizens to render aid to victims of a crime: you are your own priority. Research has revealed many social-psychological factors that frequently undermine bystander motivation to aide other people in distress. First, there are hardly any rewards involved during an emergency (Darley & Latané, 1969). The lives of both the victim and the helper are put at risk. Secondly, emergencies come without any warning or trained responses to count on, but it requires immediate action. Overall, it can put the potential helper in a mental conflict. An intervener must make a series of decisions, beginning with noticing the event and interpreting it as an emergency ( Darley & Latané, 1969). Serving as non-responsive models, other bystanders may appear to be unconcerned, influencing the potential intervener’s interpretation. Finally, he must decide if he has responsibility to act and if so, what form of aid he should offer (Darley & Latané, 1969). A person meets many hurdles on the path to helping – and has to overcome all of them if a victim hopes to be assisted. The New York Times headline in March 1964 read “37 Who Saw Murder Didn’t Call Police,” referring to the murder of Catherine Genovese, who, over the period of half an hour and within a hundred feet of her apartment, was victim to three separate stabbing attacks by her assailant (Silk, 2005). With the exception of one man calling out from one of the apartment
Amanda Dunman Psy 2400 Assignment 8 windows who then called the police, not one of the other 37 witnesses so much as notified the authorities, while she screamed and cried out for help several times that she was being attacked
(Myers, 2002). The incident prompted substantial research into the question of why these people did not come to the aid of someone so obviously in physical distress. It may seem logical to assume that the more people around to witness a situation where someone is in need of help, the more likely it is that the person will receive it. However, the opposite often proves true. Being aware of the presence of others witnessing a problem situation requiring assistance can actually weaken individual initiative and efforts to help out (Myers, 2002). This phenomenon is referred to as the bystander effect. The bystander effect shows that people are regularly less likely to provide assistance when others are present (Myers, 2002). Social psychologists Bibb Latané and John Darley concluded as that “as the number of bystanders increase, any given bystander is less likely to notice the incident, interpret it as an emergency, and assume responsibility for taking action (Myers, 2002, p.483).” A 1968 study by Darley and Latané first verified the bystander effect under laboratory conditions (Gantt & Williams, 2002). One involved placing a subject alone in a room who could communicate with other subjects by intercom. What the subject did not know was that they were all confederates. During their discussion, one of them feigned a seizure and, with increasing intensity, called for help. The study found that eighty-five percent of those thought to be alone left the room to help (Myers, 2002). Only thirty-one percent of subjects who though four others had overhead responded by helping. In some instances, the subject never told the experimenter (Myers, 2002). The most common explanation of this phenomenon is that, with others present observers all assume that someone else is going to intervene and so they each individually
Amanda Dunman Psy 2400 Assignment 8 abstain from doing so (Gantt & Williams, 2002). This is an example of how diffusion of responsibility can lead to social loafing. Individuals feel their responsibility to act is minimized in situations where multiple witnesses are present. Known as the diffusion of responsibility, it implies that while people may feel some obligatory responsibility for helping others in distress, usually when other people are present, this feeling is diffused. Each person in the crowd feels less accountable and inclined to act. With few exceptions, most people confronted with the sudden need to act are much less
likely to respond if other people are, or at least believed to be, available to help. Thus, the bigger and more densely populated an area, the less likely people will help. This diffusion of responsibility helps explain why so many Europeans were unresponsive during the Holocaust, when millions of Jews were killed (Myers, 2002). However, if an emergency is not ambivalent and does not require much interpretation, those in groups are only slightly less likely to help than were those alone (Myers, 2002). Additionally, familiarity can significantly increase altruism. Clearly, friends are more prone to helping friends than strangers, as they feel a sense of responsibility toward that person, but even a brief conversation or sitting face-to-face can up the chance of being noticed and therefore helped (Myers, 2002). Imagine that a fire alarm goes off at your workplace. Like nearly everyone, you might monitor the actions of others around you before you decide whether you should leave or not. If you do not see or smell smoke, no one is yelling "fire!", or rushing out of the building, you will probably assume it is a false alarm and wait for someone to shut it off. People effectively take cues from the behavior of others to learn what to do in unfamiliar situations, which is called
Amanda Dunman Psy 2400 Assignment 8
normative influence (Silk, 2005). A lot of times an emergency is not an obvious emergency. Are the sharp sounds from the street gunshots or fireworks? Is the man trying to steal that car or is he locked out? In times of such ambiguity, it is natural to look around at the actions of others for clues. People learn from the way the other witnesses are reacting to an event whether or not it is an emergency (Silk, 2005). What can be easy to forget is that everyone else observing the event is almost certainly to be looking for cues as well. Because we prefer to appear composed when with others, we are likely to seek out evidence of interpretation with brief, discreet glances at those around us. This is an illusion of transparency. People have an affinity for overestimating others’ ability to read their mental states. During experiments overseen by Thomas Gilovich, Kenneth Savitsky, and Victoria Husted Medvec (1998), people faced with an emergency thought their inner concern was more visible than it really was (Myers, 2002). People are more likely to see one other looking unmoved and not taking action. As a result, events can be completely interpreted as a non-emergency. Looking to others as models can be beneficial, however, because witnessing someone provide help can increase the chances of helping later. James Bryan and Mary Ann Test (1967) discovered that Los Angeles drivers were more likely to help a woman driver who had a flat tire, if they had previously seen someone helping another woman change a tire a quarter-mile beforehand (Myers, 2002). One of the interesting facets of the Catherine Genovese incident was that her neighbors were not gathered together in the same way that a group of onlookers on the street would have been. Each person was in his or her own apartment, giving the impression that they would have acted more like individual bystanders (Silk, 2005). But like the subjects in the Darley and Latané
Amanda Dunman Psy 2400 Assignment 8
experiment, they perceived they were not the only bystanders witnessing the incident. From their windows they could see lights in other windows being turned on when she was screaming and the distant shapes of others who were also watching (Silk, 2005). Even if some did not bother to look out their windows, they probably heard the neighbor calling out and reasoned others had assumed the responsibility. This is most likely why the Genovese bystanders mistakenly acted as they did. They figured that since no one else considered it an emergency, it probably was not an emergency. Still, if some suspected it might be an emergency, the diffusion of responsibility made them less bound to intervene. In a group situation, it is far simpler for an individual to wrongly assume he or she is not obliged to do anything, hoping someone else will attend to the matter by notifying police or yelling out the window (Silk, 2005). Time is another situational pressure involved in helping. When we are pressed for time or running late, we develop tunnel vision and are very focused on getting where we need to go. A person who is not in a hurry may stop to offer help a person in trouble, but the person rushing to work in the morning will keeping going (Myers, 2002). In a conflict between a personal interest of importance and someone else’s, chances are ours will always come out on top. This does not necessarily imply callousness, just that busy people are not as likely to fully comprehend the situation (Myers, 2002). When preoccupied, someone does not notice, accordingly they cannot help. External influences, such as the number of bystanders and modeling, are not the only determinants of altruistic behavior. Personal influences can also predict a person’s willingness to lend a hand. Is it to be expected that someone in a bad mood will not offer help as readily as someone in a good mood? Do women help more often than men? To begin, attitude and traits
Amanda Dunman Psy 2400 Assignment 8 rarely determine the altruistic potential for a specific act, but they do predict average behavior more accurately (Myers, 2002). Individual differences have been found by personality researchers that endure over time and they are assembling a network of traits that predispose someone to helpfulness. People who are high in “emotionality, empathy, and self-efficacy (Myers, 2002, p.496)” are the most inclined to be concerned and helpful. Challenged with a
small emergency, inherently religious people are only a little more responsive; it is when making deliberate choices about on-going helping that religious faith better foretells altruistic behavior (Myers, 2002). Membership in religious groups is strongly linked with other types of community involvement such as voting and making charitable donations (Myers, 2002). Also, personality traits can determine how someone reacts to a certain situation. For instance, people who are high self-monitoring can be very helpful when they think their actions will be rewarded in some way (Myers, 2002). Gender differences in helping behavior depend upon the circumstances. Men more often help in situations that are possibly dangerous and when the person in need is a woman. Out of the 6,767 people who have received the Carnegie medal for heroism, ninety percent have been men (Myers, 2002). They seem to take more initiative with strangers in short-term encounters. Women are slightly more likely to help under safer conditions, such as volunteering, and equally help males and females (Myers, 2002). They are generally more concerned with intimate relationships and therefore respond with greater empathy and time when a friend has a problem (Myers, 2002). What about our moods? Certainly how we feel should determine our likeliness to help others. Guilt is an example of an especially powerful and agonizing emotion. Experiments done
Amanda Dunman Psy 2400 Assignment 8 by social psychologists to encourage people to transgress in some way (lie, cheat, deliver a
shock, etc.) have shown that once someone is offered a way to alleviate their guilt, people will do whatever it takes to erase the guilt and re-establish their self-image (Myers, 2002). Perhaps you have just accidentally cut someone off while driving. It may be that the next opportunity you have to let someone in your lane, you will. The enthusiasm we feel to do good after doing something bad expresses the need to lessen private guilt and regain a positive public image (Myers, 2002). Altruism can help adults feel better – when in a negative mood, helpful deeds can counterbalance bad feelings. However, this is not true with strong feelings of grief or depression and cannot be applied to children (Myers, 2002). Having the focus be on the self does not encourage altruistic behavior. Situational and personal influences on helping have been discussed, but there is lastly the matter of who we help. Social psychology research about the bystander-victim relationship has time and again confirmed that people display greater empathy in response to those who can be considered similar than to those who would be deemed dissimilar (Gantt & Williams, 2002). Guilt and blame for not helping would likely be quite high if feelings of proximity or attraction typify the bystander-victim relationship (Gantt & Williams, 2002). People tend to aid other people who are either socially, physically, culturally, or psychologically close to them. Researcher Tim Emswiller and colleagues (1971) at Purdue University had associates dress in conservative or radical clothes and ask other students for a dime to make a phone call (Myers, 2002). Less than half of the students obliged when they were asked by an associate who was dressed differently, while two-thirds gave a dime for someone dressed like themselves (Myers, 2002).
Amanda Dunman Psy 2400 Assignment 8
After taking into account all the factors that can discourage bystander intervention, it may seem like a tricky task to get a little compassion. There are physical and material costs, time, embarrassment, and feelings of inadequacy if help is ineffective (Gantt & Williams, 2002). The costs of not helping could be self-blame, public censure, and in some situations prosecution as a criminal (Gantt & Williams, 2002). However, there are ways to rise above some of the obstacles. Contrary to studies claiming that bystanders often will not assist victims when in the presence of others, there are times in which people will and do intervene. A victim might be able to offset the bystander effect by isolating a particular individual in the crowd to appeal to for aid as opposed to petitioning the larger group (Myers, 2002). This enables that specific person to take responsibility, instead of allowing it to diffuse, countering pluralistic ignorance by showing that all bystanders are indeed interested in helping (Myers, 2002). A prosocial model is provided when someone from the crowd intervenes. Researchers have also found that individuals are more helpful to other people when in a good mood, when they feel guilty, have time to help, see someone else offer help, when they are in a small town, or when they believe that the help-seeker is similar to them (Myers, 2002). Lastly, people sometimes offer their help to those who need it for entirely altruistic reasons, out of a sense of empathy and compassion (Myers, 2002). Being a bystander to any incident, regardless of its degree of threat, is very much a personal, instinctive, and oftentimes hurried, subjective appraisal of the pros and cons of helping.
Amanda Dunman Psy 2400 Assignment 8 References
Darley, J. & Latané, B. (1969). Bystander Apathy. American Scientist, 57, 244-268.
Gantt, E.E. & R.N. Williams. (2002). Seeking Social Grounds for Social Psychology. Theory & Science. Retrieved August 14, 2006, from http://theoryandscience.icaap.org/content/vol003.002/gantt.html
Myers, D.G. (2002). Social Psychology. New York: McGraw-Hill
Silk, C. (2005). Why Did Kitty Genovese Die?. The Objectivist Center. Retrieved August 14, 2006, from http://www.objectivistcenter.org/showcontent.aspx?ct=25&h=53
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