Latane, B., & Darley, J. Bystander "Apathy", American Scientist,
1969, 57, 244-268.
This paper is about bystander apathy and the researchers experiments.
The Kitty Genovese murder in 1964 where 38 neighbors watched and listened
but did not act to help or call police shocked the nation. However, the
neighbors reactions were not much different than in other emergency situations
where people "watch the drama in helpless fascination". Why do
people who are so willing to help in non-emergency situations don't in emergency
Characteristics of Emergencies
First, there are few positive rewards in an emergency. Life is threatened
for the victims and the helpers. Second, it's an unusual event so reactions
are untrained and unrehearsed. Emergencies come without warning with no
practiced responses to fall back on. Yet it requires instant action. It
puts the potential helper in alot of stress.
A Model of the Intervention Process
An intervener must make a series of decisions. First, he must notice the
event and then interpret it as an emergency. Then he must decide if he
has responsibility to act, and if so what form of assistance he should use.
Should he help directly or call the police? Then he must decide how to
act and implement his choice.
Of course, in a real emergency a person isn't so rational as this. Also,
his decisions affect himself as much as the victim. The bystander can only
gain with pride and a hero's status -- but he risks being a failure, getting
sued, or even attacked or wounded himself.
Social Determinants to Bystander Intervention
When a person happens upon an ambigious "situation", the person
may look to other's behavior to see if they observe it as an emergency.
An individual, seeing the inaction of others, will judge the situation
as less serious that he would if alone".
Males are expected to react to stress by being calm and collected. If they
react to the emergency by intial calm inaction, this may be interpreted
by others as an assessment of non-emergency. A 'pluralistic ignorance"
Thus, people may react less to an emergency if they are in a group situation
than if they are alone.
Experiment 1. Where There's Smoke, There's (Sometimes) Fire
They had subjects began to fill out questionnaires in a room to which they
began to add smoke. In one condition the subject was alone. In another
three naive subjects were in the room. In the final condition one naive
subject and two confederates who purposely noticed and then ignored the
smoke (even when the room became hazy from all the smoke).
75% of alone subjects calmly noticed the smoke and left the room to report
it. But only 10% of the subjects with confederates reported it. Surprisingly,
in the three naive bystander condition only 38% reported the smoke.
Most subjects had similar initial reactions. Those that didn't report it
all concluded that the smoke wasn't dangerous or was part of the experiment.
No one attributed their inactivity to the presence of others in the room.
Other studies have shown that togetherness reduces fear even when the danger
isn't reduced. It may have been that people in groups were less afraid
and thus less likely to act. Or people were inhibited to show fear in a
group situation. However, from post-interviews it was clear that people
didn't act because they concluded the situation wasn't a threatening situation.
Experiment 2: Lady in Distress
In this experiment subjects either waited alone, with a friend, with a passive
confderate, or with a stranger in a room. The room was separated from another
room by a curtain (which they passed on their way to their waiting room).
The experimenter who led them there returned to other room and left, turning
on a tape recorded that simulated a fall and subquent moaning about a hurt
leg (total time 130 seconds).
They measured the % who took action and how long it took them to act.
Overall, 61% pulled back the curtain to check on the experimenter. 14%
entered via another door, and 24% simply called out. Nobody went to report
70% of alone subjects reacted, but only 7% of those with passive confederates
reacted. The subjects with confederates became confused and frequently
looked over at the confederate. Only 40% of stranger pairs offered to
70% of friend pairs helped (same as alone group), which shows some inhibition
because given the 70% alone rate we would expect a 91% rate with no inhibition.
The interveners claimed they acted because the fall seemed serious and it
was "the right thing to do". The non-interveners said they were
unsure what happened but decided it wasn't serious, and some felt they didn't
want to embarass the researcher. Again, people felt they weren't highly
influence by others in the room.
The results confirm results in the Smoke study. It seems that the risk
of inappropriate behavior is less with friends, and friends are less likely
to develop "pluralistic ignorance".
Experiment 3: The Case of the Stolen Beer
This experiment tested whether group influences would increase intervention
if a villian was involved.
The staged a shoplifiting theft of a case of beer at a liqour store. They
had two variables - one or two customers in the store, and one or two "robbers".
Overall 20% of subjects reported the theft spontaneously, and 51% reported
upon prompting by the store owner (who had gone in the back during the robbery).
One or two robbers made no difference. Sex made no difference. 65% of
single customers reported the theft. But only 56% of two-customer setups
made a report (less than expected).
Social Determinants of Bystander Intervention, II
All of the above experiments concerned whether a bystander noticed and concluded
there was an emergency. He must also decide what responsiblity he has and
what form of assistance it would take.
If there are multiple people at an emergency, the overall responsibility
for one individual is reduced. Or they may assume that others have already
responded to the emergency, so no one acts first.
Experiment 4: A Fit to Be Tied
This experiment tested what people would do if they witnessed an emergency
with the knowledge others are present but can't see or hear them.
They put a naive subject in a room and told him that they were to talk with
others about normal stress problems with other student who were similarily
in isolated rooms to ostensibly preserve anonymity. Actually, all the other
students were on tape. One of the other students became a victim that suffers
a seizure and calls for help.
They varied the perceived number of people in the discussion group for two
people (subject and victim), three person, and six person. They also varied
the three person group by changing the other bystander (female, male, and
a male pre-med student with emergency training).
Finally, they set up two more conditions. One with the subject and a real
friend as bystanders, and one where six real subjects had prior contact
and a brief "encounter" with the percieved victim.
95% of all subjects responded within the first 3 minutes. 85% of perceived
alone subjects left their cubicle before the victim finished speaking to
report it. Only 31% who thought there were four other bystanders did so.
100% in the two real person condition, but only 62% in the six person condition
reported the emergency. Sex of bystander and medical competence had no
effect on the results.
Being in the perceived presence of a friend significantly increase the speed
of response. It seems that responsibility does not diffuse across friends.
Also people who had briefly met the victim were significantly more likely
to respond quicker to his pleas. It seemed the ability to visualize the
victim help spur action.
Even those who didn't report the emergency showed signs of genuine concern.
They were often nervous and trembling. They seemed to be in a state of
indecision about responding.
Again, subjects were aware of others, but did not think they influenced
Social Determinants of Bystander Intervention III
Basically, these experiments show there are strong situational factors that
can inhibit people from acting in emergencies.