The term ‘bystander effect’ was coined after the murder of Kitty Genovese in 1964. She was murdered in the early hours of the morning in a respectable New York neighbourhood. Thirty-eight neighbours reported being able to hear her screams, yet no one came to her aid.
The witnesses’ failure to intervene sparked the interest of social psychologists including Latané and Darley (1970) who conducted a study involving male students. Whilst the participants were completing a questionnaire, smoke began to appear from a wall vent and continued to do so for six minutes when the room was entirely full of smoke. Participants who were completing the questionnaire alone were more likely to report the smoke than participants who were in a room with two confederates who completely ignored the smoke. Latané and Darley suggested this was due to the ‘diffusion of responsibility’ which is the witness’ assumption that others will take responsibility of a situation, which can ultimately lead to no one taking action. They also suggested a lone individual witnessing an emergency will feel the guilt more directly than those in a group, and so will be more likely to help and also that helping behaviour will be negatively correlated with th...
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...sponsibility (Cacioppo, Petty & Losch, 1986) and the theory of competence (Korte, 1971) which question the diffusion of responsibility accounts and evidence which does not follow the diffusion of responsibility pattern, such as that from Piliavin et al (1969), making the theory too weak to assume its accuracy in the real world. This suggests the true cause of the bystander effect is still unclear and there could be many contributing factors causing this phenomenon which the current theories do not account for or bystanders may decide to help or not help depending on varying situational factors that cannot be accounted for by one single theory. This does not necessarily mean that the diffusion of responsibility theory is incorrect; it simply means more research must be conducted into this area in order to be able to more clearly state what causes the bystander effect.
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