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Bystander Effect - Psychology Definition of the Week

By , black-rose-bielefeld.de GuideAugust 5, 2011

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bystander effect

Definition: What would you do if you saw someone in trouble? Would you rush in to help, or would you assume that someone else would likely come to the person's aid? While we like to think that we would leap to action, research has found the people are less likely to take action in these instances when there are a lot of other people present.

So why do witnesses of crimes or emergencies sometimes fail to contact authorities or intervene? Social scientists often use the term 'bystander effect' to explain this lack of action. This topic is mentioned in nearly every introductory psychology textbook and is usually accompanied by the story of Kitty Genovese. This young woman's 1964 murder was highly publicized, partly because the original reports suggested that 38 people witnessed the crime yet did nothing to help the woman or contact police. In 2007, an article appeared in American Psychologist suggesting that the story has been largely misrepresented due to inaccuracies in the original story.

Learn more about this phenomenon including real-world examples and explanations for why it occurs in this definition of the bystander effect.

Image courtesy Piotr Bizior

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