The Bystander Effect: An overlooked phenomenon behind society’s problems
By HENRY HSIA
Pedestrians walk by a homeless veteran in need of help. Onlookers stand by as a woman is robbed.
Situations like these happen more often than you think, and they can all be attributed to the bystander effect. The bystander effect occurs when people dissociate themselves from problems that they believe do not affect them.
On both a local and global scale, this pervasive bystander mentality results in dire consequences and needs to be addressed by society.
In 1969, Latane and Robin conducted experiments on the bystander effect. They found that 70 percent of people would help a distressed women, but that number drops to 40 percent if other bystanders are present. On March 13, 1964, Kitty Genovese was stabbed to death after leaving her apartment in Queens during the early hours of the morning. It was reported that 38 witnesses saw the murder, but failed to intervene or report the incident to police.
It is clear from these occurrences that our actions are heavily influenced by our peers. In social situations, people tend to structure their actions around others, in order to fit in and appear socially acceptable. When people are surrounded by others, they feel less responsibility. This is why people can watch and ignore people who are in pain or in need of help. This harmful dissociation of responsibility can and will result in many unnecessary and preventable losses.
The bystander effect may also be just as prevalent at school. Students are often bullied for being different, but the only reason this bullying is allowed to take place is because of inaction. In many cases, students simply ignore injustices occurring right in front of them because their peers ignore the problem, leading them to believe that intervention is too much of a hassle. Needless to say, this neglect of others is detrimental to society as a whole.
While dissociation of responsibility is harmful on a smaller scale, its effects are even more significant when dealing with global issues. It plays an unfortunate role in many global events, because countries that are fully capable of preventing a tragedy neglect to do so. In violent events such as the South Sudan civil war and the Russian invasion of Ukraine, thousands of people died because first-world countries dissociated themselves from the responsibility.
First-world countries also dissociate from the responsibility of global warming. In a recent study, United Nations scientists found that if the world continues on our current path, the damage may become irreversible. Coral reefs will cease to exist, millions of people are at risk from rising sea levels and other horrendous effects of global warming will ensue. The impending crisis of global warming is unfortunately swept under the rug by a diffusion of responsibility. Politicians often ignore and even deny the existence of global warming. Likewise, many in the general public ignore the issue, as it does not directly affect them yet. This dissociation from the problem prevents anything from being done about said problem
In conclusion, the bystander effect results in significant, irreversible consequences to society as a whole. Specifically, the bystander effect can result in an increase in preventable crime as well as bullying. Even more worrying is the way this mentality affects our response to global dilemmas. Because of this dissociation from problems, many people fail to act and simply ignore global issues.
The consequences of this bystander mentality can easily be avoided with a change in our attitudes. In many modified versions of the Latane and Robin experiments, researchers found that the bystander effect requires unanimity. It only takes one person to act against the majority to spur others into action.
As a society, we need to value social conformity less, and value social dissenters more. Individually, we can be the person to act. We can set the example for others and act against the injustices we see daily, inspiring others who might hold the sentiments to also act. All it takes is one person. Will that person be you?