The “bystander effect” and the psychology of compassion

This Washington Post article recounts a couple of troubling incidents that recently have received news coverage, and attempts to intepret them according to

Sociologists and psychologists have long studied what is known as bystander behavior. They say people are often unsure how to react to such events because they have difficulty processing what they are seeing. Witnesses to tragedy, especially when events are uncertain, often look around first.

If no one else is moving, individuals have a tendency to mimic the unmoving crowd. Although we might think otherwise, most of us would not have behaved much differently from the people we see in these recent videos, experts say. Deep inside, we are herd animals, conformists. We care deeply what other people are doing and what they think of us. The classic story of conformist behavior can be found in the 1964 case of Kitty Genovese, the 28-year-old bar manager who was slain by a man who raped and stabbed her for about half an hour as neighbors in a New York neighborhood looked on. No one opened a door for her. No one ran into the street to intervene.

Later, investigators would say that no single person saw the entire attack and some people misinterpreted the screams, but the case still prompted sociologists to study how the slaying could have happened on a populated street. The case produced a term — the “bystander effect” — to explain why people do not act when others clearly appear to be suffering in front of them.

Advertisements

Comments are closed.