Sunday, October 7, 2007

The Bystander Effect: Foundations and Solutions

Local government is alarmed by a recent increase in muggings and robberies in the community, often performed in the presence of others (bystanders). As an expert in the area of pro-social behaviour, you have been asked to come up with strategies that will make people more likely to lend assistance in these types of situations. Using at least two relevant theories/models, outline the strategy you would recommend to the government.

The bystander effect occurs regularly within society and allows the occurrence of robberies, muggings and even so far as murders. This bystander effect has become a topic of interest with psychologists. Many models and theories have been created to understand the processes behind this effect. The bystander effect needs to be counteracted to improve the safety and increase help administered to victims within our community. To increase bystander intervention a victim can; ensure someone notices you, decrease the ambiguity of a situation by stating you need help, specifically identify a person to help and describe the help you need. Furthermore governments can increase bystander intervention by creating altruistic models, educating society on the effect and also on what steps to take in an emergency.

Figure 1. The Bystander Effect: Increasing Intervention.

The brutal murder of Kitty Genovese (1968) while 38 people looked on was a major stimulus for social-psychological research into the failure of people to act (Schwartz & Gottlieb, 1976). This “hesitancy to help strangers in an emergency, believing that ‘someone else’ will do something or that we are not suitability qualified to offer the right kind of help” became known as the bystander effect (Brown, 2000, pp. 44). The bystander effect also extends to situations of robberies and muggings.

Several models exist to explain this phenomenon, for example Darley and Latané’s multi-stage model, the social-learning theory and the bystander-calculus model. These models and theories identify two factors which are important in the influence of intervention; the presence of others and emotionality. They are also important in creating recommendations which will increase the likelihood of bystander intervention (Levine & Thompson, 2004).

Darley and Latané multi-stage model of decision-making

This model involves five steps and a person must proceed through each step in order for a bystander to intervene (Darley & Latané, 1968) (see Appendix F).

1- Does the bystander notice an event?
The bystander must first notice the event. Without this vital stage, no help will be administered. The smoke-filled room experiment by Latané and Darley (1968) demonstrates that individuals noticed the smoke before individuals in a group situation. In this study, solitary students often glanced around the room and noticed the smoke in less than five seconds. Those in groups kept their eyes on their work, and took typically 20 seconds (Myers, 2007). Furthermore in the ‘hand in the till’ experiment by Latané and Darley, 52% of the subjects in the alone condition claimed to not have noticed the theft (Latané & Darley, 1970). In order to receive help, you must ensure that people notice the event.

2- How is the event interpreted?
The bystander must then interpret the event as in need of intervention. As stated by Cialdini (1993), often an emergency is not obviously an emergency. A man lying in an alley could be a heart attack victim or a drunk. The ambiguity of a situation causes people to search for social cues. This underlies the theory of social proof where people ‘often take their cues from others when deciding what to think or how to behave in a given situation, especially when they are unsure about what to think or do’ (Silk, 2005). However, one significant complication is that people, not wanting to look foolish, appear ‘poised and unflustered when we are with others’ (Cialdini, 1993). This leads to pluralistic ignorance and thus everyone fails to act. To prevent the need for social proof, a victim should state they need help and what help they require (Silk, 2005). By instructing people, a situation becomes unambiguous and thus victims are more likely to receive assistance.

Often arguments between a male and a female are interpreted as domestic disputes, and thus people do not intervene. These effects were demonstrated in a study which staged a fight between a man and a woman. Seventy percent of the participants interpreted this as a domestic argument and only 4% felt the two were complete strangers (Kenrick, Neuberg & Cialdini, 2005). These findings can assist us in altering situations to increase the likelihood of bystanders intervening, such as by shouting ‘I don’t know you’ and ‘I need help.’ These statements decrease the ambiguity of the situation, destroy the image of a domestic dispute and hence increase the chances of bystander intervention.

3- Does the bystander accept personal responsibility for helping?
Next, the bystander must accept personal reasonability for helping. In the case of Kitty, the bystanders had interpreted the event clearly, however failed to accept personal responsibility (Vaughan & Hogg, 2002). The simple presence of others, which leads to an effect where ‘each person is less likely to help’ is labelled diffusion of responsibility and is a major component of the bystander effect (Cohen, 2001, pp. 143).

Darley and Latané found that a second bystander to an event reduced the probability that help would be offered from around 70% to 60%. Furthermore, when three or four bystanders were present this figure dropped to about 40% or 30% (Young & Baranski, 2003) (see Appendix E). Therefore, to prevent diffusion of responsibility a victim needs to specially identify someone to help. Additionally, research suggests that people who are not in a hurry and those who feel similar to you are more inclined to help and therefore would be the best individuals to seek out for help (Gilovich, Keltner & Nisbett, 2006; Dovidio, 1984) (see Appendix D). To increase bystander intervention children should be taught not to distinguish people based on their group membership, especially when people require help.

4 & 5- What does the bystander decide to do and is help given?
The fourth and fifth steps in this model are dependent upon successfully proceeding through the first three steps. During the fourth step bystanders; calculate the possible outcomes, determine if they have the knowledge to help and decide whether to help (Vaughan & Hogg, 2002). To increase bystander intervention, the victim should direct a specific individual to help them and tell them exactly how to help, for example calling 000. This also reduces audience inhibition where people fail ‘to help in front of others for fear of feeling like a fool is one’s offer of help is rejected’ (Baumeister & Bushman, 2008, pp. 281). Furthermore by educating people on how to act in emergency situations reduces the concern that they are inadequate to help (Bearman, Barnes & Klentz, 1978). By decreasing the ambiguity of a situation, creating personal responsibility and asking for specific actions, a victim can increase the chance of bystander intervention.

Bystander-calculus model

The bystander-calculus model is a combination of cognitive and physiological processes. The bystander must calculate the perceived costs and benefits of providing assistance (Piliavin, Dovidio, Gaetner & Clark, 1981) (see Appendix G). A person must first become physiologically aroused at the sight of another’s distress. Often a person’s heart rate will drop; this is an orienting reaction allowing us to determine the situation, followed by a dramatic rise in physiological reactions. This serves as a defence reaction, preparing the bystander to act. The greater the physiological arousal the greater the chance that the bystander will act. Situational factors, such as the severity and clarity of the situation contribute to the intensity of the physiological responses. Thus if a victim yells that they need help, a bystander’s physiological response will be heightened and hence increases the chance of bystander intervention (Piliavin et al.).

Secondly, this reaction must be labelled as either personal distress or empathetic concern (see Appendix A). Bystander intervention reduces the anxiety of personal distress and thus is a self-serving need. Empathetic concern on the other hand is motivated by the concern for another (Piliavin et al., 1981).

The third process is to evaluate a bystander’s options. A bystander will weigh the costs of direct helping and indirect helping and will chose the action that will reduce personal distress to the lowest cost (Piliavin et al., 1981). To reduce the concerns of bystander intervention, ‘Good Samaritan’ laws can be created and enforced to ensure people who help are not litigated against.

Social-learning theory

The social learning theory states that individuals learn and model their behaviours by observing others (Isom, 1998). This theory can be adapted to reduce the bystander effect. It was demonstrated by Bryan and Test (1967) that exposure to a prosocial model increases the likelihood of bystander intervention. In this study motorists first passed a woman with a flat tyre and another person assisting her. Then the participants came across another car with a flat tyre. Motorists exposed to an altruistic model were over 50% more likely to help. Furthermore, people in positions of leadership act as role models and thus when they intervene in emergency situations they define help as the appropriate response (Vaughan & Hogg, 2002; Smith & Mackie, 2007). Therefore by making altruistic models available to adults and children, for example through television campaigns, this will encourage assistance in emergencies (Hearold, 1986).

My strategy is as follows:

By the end of 2008, develop and screen an ‘awareness campaign’ designed to raise the public’s awareness of common situations that require intervention. The ‘short film’ style screenings should depict the cues and potential obstacles to intervention as well as demonstrating the expected group behaviour with regards to muggings and robberies. Ideally the campaign should use well known and respected public figures or appropriate models. A government sponsored ‘Tropfest’ type short film competition is one possible option. The campaign needs to demonstrate the ideal actions of both the victim and the bystander, and could be produced in a booklet format (see Appendix B). The campaign must be widely administered and target both adult and children audiences. In conjunction, an increase in the awareness of the Neighbourhood Watch campaign would promote personal responsibility, hence heightening the education of this effect and promote helping (see Appendix C).

Appendix A

Appendix B

Appendix C

Appendix D

Appendix E

Appendix F

Appendix G

Appendix H

Reference List


Rebekah said...

Look at you... you organised little thing!

This is awesome bec.. makes heaps of sense.. Bystander effect is really intriguing.

Nice work.. its a really interesting read. I enjoyed it.

James Neill said...

Bec, congrats I think on being the first to post a Blog 2 draft!!

Overall, this is a solid draft - ideal for putting out there and getting comments. So, I hope what follows helps. Get back to me by email if you want clarification about anything.

In general, as you redraft, I'd be inclined to incorporate more about the recommendations/approach you would take into the earlier sections.

I also get the feeling you may have too many models. I'd try to concentrate on fewer, although there is no harm in citing all of them at some point. But it would help perhaps to organise "other theories" into a more condensed section.

It's good to see that you've made use of other textbooks. Well done.

Some of the reference are a bit dated. It would be ideal if you could find some recent peer reviewed literature on the bystander effect and how it can be prevented. This would demonstrate your capacity to identify the best say 10 theory/research articles available in contemporary psychological journals. You might try the Annual Review of Psychology, for example.

Some sort of concept map or figure showing these models - or perhaps even better your proposed solution with citations indicating the theoretical source could add value to this essay. Whilst the cartoon is a fun introduction, it would be good to balance this out with a more central figure which helps to answer the question.

Other more minor suggestions I picked up:
- a more descriptive title?
- figure caption goes below figure
- consider shifting figure so its not the first thing - alternative add an abstract before
- [optional] add an abstract to summarise the essay (doesn't add to word count but can improve overall readability)
- the initial para is in italics - not sure if this is meant to be an abstract - i think it might be - it probably works better as intro para, but remove italics. Note that the abstract importantly would include a summary of your recommendations and probably less specific detail (e.g., about kitty genovese).
- Start a sentence with "Seventy percent" rather than "70%"

James Neill said...

The appendices are interesting and generally very useful as adjunct material.

Two suggestions:
- I think more of Appendix B - at least a summary needs to be incorporated into the main essay.
- All appendices should be referred at least once in the body text.