The Bystander Effect Should Start to be taught in Elementary School

In this week’s lesson we read about the bystander effect and the factors that inhibit people to help in emergency situations (Latane & Nida, 1981). I feel like we could tie this week’s lesson in with last week’s lesson on applied social psychology in education because school bullying has become an emergency situation in this day and age. In my blog last week I discussed the situation of my son being beat up at recess. I mentioned how there were three teachers present, not to mention the three different 5th grade classes that were outside for recess together, and not one single person noticed or stopped the fight or tried to intervene in anyway.

The other students present during the situation at recess, being 5th graders (10-11years old), I could understand that they would be unaware of the bystander effect or the factors that inhibit their willingness to help. As a matter of fact, I know that the kid who was beating up my son had friends nearby that witnessed the fight and when asked about it said that they thought my son and their friend was just playing tag. Of course they said this in defense of their friend. My son’s friends were not present and did not witness the fight; therefore my son had no one defending him and his side of the story. However, the teachers that were present on the other hand are a different story; you would think that somewhere in their educational journey to becoming a teacher, or even as an adult, they would have heard of the bystander effect. When I contacted the school about the incident the first thing I experienced from them was diffusion of responsibility. Immediately they put it all on my son saying that it is his responsibility to report the incident. His homeroom teacher, which was one of the ones “monitoring” recess during the incident, tried diffusion of responsibility by saying that she couldn’t see everything that was going on at every moment, implying that someone else should have, or might have, seen it happening. She also tried saying that she never noticed the very obvious black eye my son had by the end of the day, did she purposefully not look at him? This would be exhibiting Milgram’s second way of psychological retreating by prioritizing what we pay attention to as to avoid lower priority things, such as avoiding looking at my son’s face knowing he got hit but not wanting to have to deal with the situation (Schneider, Gruman & Coutts, 2012).

Either way, I feel one possible intervention strategy to help reduce bullying could be to start incorporating lessons on the bystander effect and the factors that inhibit people to help in emergency situations in elementary school. I feel this would bring about more awareness and action at a younger age that could potentially start nipping bullying in the butt. I also feel this would be a good way to engage teachers as well to help intervene in bullying situations instead of just waiting for the child to report it (which we know rarely happens due to the fear of retaliation). What are your thoughts on this intervention? Do you feel it would be feasible? Obviously the intervention program would be modified to be geared more toward elementary aged children and bullying situations more so than like using the example of Kitty being murdered.


Latané, B., & Nida, S. (1981). Ten years of research on group size and helping. Psychological Bulletin, 89(2), 308-324. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.89.2.308

Schneider, F.W., Gruman, J.A. & Coutts, L.M. (2012). Applied Social Psychology (2nd ed.): Understanding and Addressing Social and Practical Problems. Thousand Oaks, CA. SAGE Publications, Inc.


  1. I’m sorry to hear about your son being bullied at school. To me, this doesn’t seem like a conventional example of the bystander effect. Children in 5th grade do not think the same way that adults do. Latané and Nida (1981) stated that a person’s willingness to help increases with age, and that children under the age of nine years old do not help to a substantial degree in many cases. They wondered if the tendency to help more as they got older was due to increased awareness of social expectations to help others in distress. I think that the responsibility to intervene needs to be largely focused on the adults in the situation, rather than children who may be too young to understand the importance of helping others, even if they are approaching the age mentioned by Latané and Nida (1981). Perhaps it would be helpful to have discussions with children that could help reduce stigmatization by peers after they “tell on” someone. I think that a lot of bullying goes unreported because of this, so it would be a good place to start in order to prevent school violence.

    Your idea about educating others on the bystander effect may help adults to understand and make them less susceptible to diffusion of responsibility. Beaman, Barnes, Klentz, and McQuirk (1978) clearly illustrated that increased knowledge of the bystander effect reduced the likelihood that individuals would ignore others who were in need of assistance. Latané and Nida (1981) did note that people were less likely to help in an ambiguous situation, but I think that in cases of physical violence, it would be obvious that intervention was necessary.

    Latané, B., & Nida, S. (1981). Ten years of research on group size and helping. Psychological Bulletin, 89(2), 308-324. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.89.2.308

    Beaman, A.L., Barnes, P.J., Klentz, B., & McQuirk, B. (1978). Increasing helping rates

  2. Kendall A Eimers

    The bystander effect occurs when individuals are involved in a situation where they are unsure how they should react. It amazes me that the bystander effect occurs at such a young age. People who are faced with a sudden state of emergency may contemplate whether they should intervene and help the victim, or wait to see how other witnesses react to the situation. Relatively, the bystander effect inhibits the audience’s willingness to help when other spectators are present. After an individual is confronted with an event, they experience diffusion of responsibility, in which their sense of accountability to take action decreases in the presence of other bystanders.

    You made a great proposal indicating that the bystander effect should be taught as young as elementary school. Most of the time, it seems like people do not intervene in emergency situations due to their lack of understanding for the proper way to react to an event. Young children should be taught a systematic approach that teaches them techniques on how to mediate and respond to a conflict. I feel horrible that happened to your son, and that no one intervened to defend him or stop the fight altogether. It seems like the teachers were making excuses for their failure to intervene because they felt like someone else would take care of the situation. They should have noticed if he had a black eye – that should be part of their job to notice if any bullying is going on at school. It shocks me that she never said anything to him about it. I’m sorry that happened.

    Likewise, I feel like teaching young children on how to react to various conflicts is a good idea. They should learn how they can personally help and engage with other bystanders. Additionally, they should be taught that it is okay to be a leader in a group, and that they should be able to go against what everyone else is doing if it incorporates positivity to the situation. As you mentioned, bullying is a huge problem, and many people do not tell anyone or tolerate it. Kids should never feel like they have to hide behind a closed door, and they most definitely should be able to express themselves when it comes to their personal life or sticking up for others. Vast majority of kids fear that they may run the risk of embarrassment if they decide to mediate an event which was falsely interpreted, but they should understand that other bystanders are probably feeling just as confused and indecisive as they are at that time. Children should be raised to be strong leaders and stick up for themselves and others in a responsible and mature manner. One of the biggest lessons that young kids should be taught is to always put yourself in the other person’s shoes, and never depersonalize anyone. There is good in everyone, and they should feel excited to learn about the uniqueness of individuals rather than forming barriers to avoid social interaction. Conclusively, moral responsibility is centered around taking a course of action to help the victim in a situation. We should try to decrease the bystander effect and learn to speak up for ourselves, rather than holding back from helping someone in need just because everyone else is doing that.

    Thanks for the read!
    Kendall Eimers

  3. I found your post interesting because you chose to combine your personal event with the class work. I agree that the bystander effect can take place in regards to bullying in a school setting. But it is important to note that it takes place in all sorts of settings even if we chose to only look at bullying. Workplace bullying produces a large number of passive bystanders because they see the even as ‘I am an adult as are they. It is not my problem'(Riggio, 2011). Though in an ideal world there would be no bystanders and instead people would always do the right thing, that is not realistic. The website,, has an article with a very good point; it takes a lot of courage to stand up to someone and even more courage to stand up to someone for someone else (NA, 2014). I think that is important to remember especially for young children. You are right that at age 10/11 they are probably not aware of the social phenomenon of the bystander effect but they do not want to get involved in something that is not their business or in the event of also getting bullied.
    In regards to your intervention I think that it is a plausible idea but it is missing two key components. I think you need to start the intervention for very young children right away. Children need to get a back bone at a younger age instead of always getting an adult. Sometimes an adult it not available therefore the problem goes unchanged. After being turned down time and time again the child will more than likely not get an adult anymore or intervene at all. Sadly that’s what happens. Secondly, I think that teachers need to receive more extensive training for stepping aside in the situation or even brushing it off. I am not saying that your sons teacher was choosing to ignore his black eye but at the same time you are right that she probably chooses to see less of everyone. Most classrooms have 25-30 children, which is a large number for one adult to keep track of every single thing. Even if she did notice and confronted the group (bully, your son, bullies friends) she may have believed that he fell on the playground or it happened during tag which is often the case for young boys. Overall I agree that there are many factors from chapter 12 that can be applied to this one event.

    NA. (2014, June 12). How The Bystander Effect Could Promote Bullying. Retrieved from No Bullying:
    Riggio, R. E. (2011, January 26). Why Workplace Bullies Thrive: The Bystander Effect. Retrieved from Psychology Today:

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