During this week’s assigned readings in Applied Social Psychology, Understanding and Addressing Social and Practical Problems, by Schneider, Gruman, and Coutts, we learned about the bystander effect. The bystander effect is defined as a phenomenon that occurs when multiple witnesses of an emergency fail to get involved (Schneider, Gruman, & Coutts). There are three triggers related to the bystander effect: Audience inhibition, social influence, and diffusion of responsibility (Latane & Nida, 1981).
- Audience inhibition: A bystander may choose not to intervene in an emergency because they are afraid of embarrassing themselves in front of other people (Latane & Nida, 1981).
- Social influence: When bystanders do not know how to act in an emergency situation, they will look to other bystanders for cues on how to act in the ambiguous situation. Unfortunately, in an ambiguous situation, most of the bystanders will not know how to act and everyone will be looking for cues from each other. This results in none of the bystanders getting involved (Latane & Nida, 1981).
- Diffusion of responsibility: Bystanders believe they do not need to help in an emergency because someone else will (Latane & Nida, 1981).
Since I have learned about the bystander effect, I have been thinking of tragedies that could have been prevented if proper help was initiated. One tragedy that sticks out to me is the incident that occurred on February 2, 2017 at The Pennsylvania State University. Unfortunately, it is possible that the bystander effect influenced events that led up to the death of Tim Piazza.
FULL DISCLOSURE: THIS ANALYSIS IS BASED OFF OF INFORMATION FROM NEWS REPORTS. I DO NOT CLAIM TO KNOW EXACTLY WHAT HAPPENED ON THE NIGHT OF FEBRUARY 2, 2017, AS ONLY THE PEOPLE WHO WERE THERE DO.
For those who do not know, Tim Piazza was a sophomore at Penn State University who died from a collapsed lung, lacerated spleen, and a fractured skull after a bid-acceptance night at Beta Theta Pi (Pallotto, 2019). Below, I will address the incidents that occurred (reported by Benjamin Wallace of Vanity Fair) and how they could have been influenced by the bystander effect:
Tim was extremely intoxicated and fell down the basement stairs. After some time, a few of his fraternity brothers carried him back upstairs. Tim was obviously unconscious and had multiple visible injuries, but they set him on the couch and carried on with the night. Every single person at the fraternity house physically saw Tim and the condition he was in, yet no one did anything. Finally, one of the fraternity brothers argued with another that they needed to call 911 and got shoved. 911 was not called and the party continued. The party eventually ended and everyone left, leaving Tim alone for the remainder of the night. Two fraternity brothers found Tim the next morning and did not call 911 for almost an hour after (Wallace, 2017).
- Audience inhibition: It is possible that the bystanders (fraternity brothers, other party-goers) did not call 911 or try to help Tim in any other ways because they were afraid they would be ostracized for it. In fact, this actually occurred when a fraternity brother wanted to call 911 and got pushed across the room for it.
- Social influence: It is possible that the emergency that occurred was ambiguous. Some of the fraternity brothers and other people at the party may not have understood what exactly was going on with Tim. It is also possible they thought he was just black-out drunk like they have seen hundreds of other college students. It is also possible that the bystanders were too intoxicated to fully understand the circumstances of the situation. With this being said, the bystanders most likely looked to other bystanders to know how to react to the situation, and everyone was responding by ignoring the emergency and going on with the party.
- Diffusion of responsibility: It is possible that the bystanders of the emergency thought that there were so many other people at the party, someone must have had called 911. Bystanders also may have assumed it was the president of the fraternity or the upperclassmen’s responsibility to get help.
Tragedies can be avoided if the proper help is initiated. However, due to the bystander effect, witnesses of an emergency often fail to get involved or get help because of audience inhibition, social influence, and/or diffusion of responsibility. Unfortunately, it is possible that the bystander effect contributed to the wrongful and premature death of Tim Piazza. As college students, it is important that we keep the bystander effect in mind if we are ever in an emergency situation like the one Tim and his fraternity brothers were in. Remembering the bystander effect could actually save a life.
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
Pallotto, Bret. (2019). It’s Been 2 Years Since Tim Piazza’s Death at Penn State. Here’s What’s Happened Since. Retrieved from: https://www.centredaily.com/news/local/community/state-college/article225340915.html
Schneider, F. W., Gruman, J. A., and Coutts, L. M. (Eds.). (2012). Applied Social Psychology. Understanding and Addressing Social and Practical Problems. CA: SAGE Publications, Inc.
Wallace, Benjamin. (2017). How a Fatal Frat Hazing Became Penn State’s Latest Campus Crisis. Retrieved from: https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2017/10/penn-state-fraternity-hazing-death