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PWP 14: The Psychology of Bystanderism and the Bystander Effect

Hello everyone, I hope that you had a great weekend.

Today's episode of The Psychology World Podcast is on the Bystander Effect and the Pyschology of Human Relationships.

Today's show notes are taken from my Psychology of Human Relationships book 1st Edition. To find the 2nd Edition please click here.

Chapter 6: Bystanderism

In this chapter, the studies will talk more about Bystanderism than me, but it will be interesting.

Bystanderism also known as the Bystander Effect is where someone is less likely to help if there are other people around.

The Bystander Effect, I do find interesting because why do people not help when you can clearly see that someone needs help.

In everyday life, there are thousands of examples of the Bystander Effect.

Here are only a few examples and I bet that all of us would like to think we would help but, in reality, I bet none of us would help, or only the best of us would.

· You see a man being chased down the street by a group of three men who look intimidating or threating. The man being chased clearly needs help and is terrified for his life.

· You’re stuck in traffic and you see an old lady walking pass with heavy shopping bags, and you know that she’s going to fall.

· You’re on a busy train and you see a young girl getting bullied by a group of mean girls.

And there are thousands of more examples demonstrating the Bystander Effect.

Personally, I find it interesting because as a society we are bred to be helpful and the best we can but when it comes to it. Barely any of us actually are helpful to complete strangers.

For the case studies, I’ll do a combined critical thinking section.

Darley and Latane (1968):

Psychology students took part in a conversation with other students over an intercom system.

Round 1 each participant was to present their problems. Round 2 was to comments on what other people had said and round 3 was for free discussion.

In reality, all other people heard over the intercom system were recordings.

The future victim spoke first in the discussion tell them that it was hard to adjust to the new city and he was prone to seizures under stress.

In round 2, he started to have a seizure and asked for help then went quiet.

Then the subject was timed to see if they went to find help and after being debriefed, they filled in a series of questionnaires.

Results showed that the number of bystanders does increase the response time as when it was the victim and subject 85% responded to the emergency and it took an average of 52 seconds to respond. Whereas only 31% of people responded when it was them, the victim and four other people with it taking them on average of 166 seconds.

In conclusion, the subjects were in conflict about whether or not to help because they didn’t want to overreact and destroy the experiment but equally they didn’t want the shame of not helping. This can be explained by diffusion of reasonability as with their being more people there were more people for the responsibility to psychologically disturbed.

Latane and Darley (1968)

Students were placed into three groups and all were asked to fill out a questionnaire and after a while, the room began to fill with smoke.

One group was when the participant was in the room alone.

Group two was when the participant was in the room with two other people. These people were asked to act indifferent and ignore the smoke.

The last condition was when the participant was in the room with two other participants.

Results showed that when alone 75% of the participant reported the smoke.

When with two other people only 10% reported the smoke and when in condition 3 only 38% reported the smoke.

In interviews, participant thought the smoke was strange but wasn’t sure if it was dangerous.

In conclusion, when faced with an ambiguous situation people tend to rely on the reactions of others and are influenced by them. This can lead them to interpret the event as not dangerous and phenomenon known as pluralistic ignorance.

Critical thinking:

While both studies were effectively controlled as they both had a number of experimental groups so we could see the effects of Bystanderism in different contexts as well as with a number of different numbers.

Both studies lacked ecological validity because if we take the intercom study for instance. In a real-world situation, you can see other people’s expressions to a situation and these expressions amongst other things play a role in deciding whether to help or not. Therefore, this could affect the results because this could have led to an increase in the response time or a decrease.


The Bystander Effect is when a witness to an emergency is less likely to help if there are other people around.

Latane and Darley (1969) shows us how the diffusion of responsibility plays a role in Bystanderism.

Darley and Latane (1968) shows us how pluralistic ignorance affect Bystanderism.

I hope that you enjoyed today's podcast episode.

Please consider signing up for my newsletter to receive your FREE psychology book and please check out Psychology of Human Relationships for more information.

Have a great week everyone!

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