The Bystander Apathy Experiment

In 1964 a woman named Kitty Genovese was chased down, sexually assaulted, and murdered just feet away from her house. The man who did this horrific acts to her was Winston Moseley. Why I am talking about a murder case? Because during these events Kitty was able to scream fir help, and 38 witnesses were aware that it was taking place yet chose to do nothing to help the dying woman.

After the case, psychologists John Darley and Bibb Latané were curious how so many people were able to just stand back and wait for authorities to handle it. They devised an experiment called the ‘Bystander Apathy Experiment’ in which they recruited university students to participate. The students would each be talking to other participants in a discussion group; however, each participant had a separate room. In other words, the conversations would be taking place over microphones and speakers where either of the participants would not be able to physically see the person they are talking to.

Each participant is given two minutes to talk during their turn, they do not know that the other ‘participant’ they are talking to is a pre-recorded voice. The subject can be talking to one to five people, depending on their treatment condition. One of the voices is of an epileptic student who suffers from seizures. He confesses to the group that he suffers from such disease in his first turn of speaking to the group. On his second turn, the seizure starts. The pre-recorded voice sounded something like this:

“I’m… I’m having a fit… I… I think I’m… help me… I… I can’t… Oh my God… err… if someone can just help me out here… I… I… can’t breathe p-p-properly… I’m feeling… I’m going to d-d-die if…”

The participant being tested cannot see this person actually having a seizure, therefore can only hear his reactions. The study based its results off of how long it took the participant to get up, leave the room, and search for someone to help.

The results are shocking. Only 31% of people went to seek for help. Majority of people did not even bother to help this suffering man. Much of the results was based off of the treatment condition the participant was placed in. For example, a participant that was entered in a group with only one voice was more likely to go seek help compared to a participant who was in a group with 5 other voices.

It is said that there are two reasons as to why the participants did not react. One being that they felt as if there was a diffusion of responsibility. In other words, they felt as if other people could intervene and they are held less responsible. Second being that they are ignorant to the situation. The participants felt that because no one else was reacting, why should they?

I personally found these results to be incredibly disturbing. To think that someone could be dying and 38 people can report as witnesses, yet no one tried to intervene is incredible. A bystander can save a life, so when you see a situation happening and no one else is reacting, don’t stand back and wait for someone else to be brave. Intervene, because you might be saving someone’s life.

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