The Bystander Effect

Essay by Rainbow_GalUniversity, Bachelor'sA-, May 2008

download word file, 7 pages 1.0

Lily is thirteen years old and tall for her age. One afternoon, she confronts a suspicious looking stranger near a young girl playing in the local park. The stranger takes to his heels when Lily challenges him. Lily’s bravery is the talk of the neighbourhood. On learning of this, a student who is studying social psychology makes the comment: It’s just as well that Lily’s usual playmates were not around or that little girl might not have received any help.

(Vaughan and Hogg, 2005, p.358)When it comes to helping others, studies have uncovered an apparent paradox in social psychology called the ‘bystander effect’ (Weiten 2007, p.684). The bystander effect is a theory of pro-social or helping behaviour (Vaughan and Hogg, 2005, p. 538) and is defined as “the phenomenon that the more people present when help is needed the less likely any one of them is to provide assistance” (Penguin Dictionary of Psychology 1985, p.104).

This essay will critically discuss the above scenario, referring to the social psychology student’s comments, using the ‘bystander effect’ theory of pro-social behaviour as its framework. Factors which influence ‘bystander intervention’ and what makes it more or less likely that a person will help a stranger will also be identified and examined.

In the above scenario we see Lily confronted with a situation involving a potential predator. Lily, even though tall for her age, is still perceived as considerably young at only thirteen to confront a male adult alone and human logic suggests that had Lily’s friends been present there would have been ‘safety in numbers’ and therefore a correspondingly greater probability that someone will help (School of Health and Human Services 2007, p.13).

However, Darley and Latane (1968, p. 377) founders in the area of helping behaviour and bystander effect research argue that when...