What Are They Thinking?
To understand how the bystander effect, pluralistic ignorance, and diffusion of responsibility can be applied to different real-life situations, it is important to focus on analyzing people’s reactions to emergencies. The first instance to discuss is the situation when a man in a good suit is lying on the ground, and different people offer their assistance (HeroicImaginationTV, 2011). While focusing on the bystander effect, it is possible to state that when people see a person in a good suit, they quickly decide to help him, and the number of bystanders who witness this situation is minimal. Thus, almost all of these people are likely to help when they notice that other persons have helped the man. However, according to the principle of pluralistic ignorance, if one person interprets this situation as safe to help the man, other people also consider the emergency the same way (Aronson, Wilson, Akert, & Sommers, 2016). Furthermore, as the number of persons who are bystanders in the discussed situation is low, they choose to share responsibility according to the principle of diffusion of responsibility.
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One more situation to discuss is the instance when a male in casual clothing is lying on the ground, but no one notices him in spite of the fact that he is asking for help (HeroicImaginationTV, 2011). According to the bystander effect, if more people pass by, fewer witnesses pay attention to the man (Aronson et al., 2016). However, it is possible to assume that someone’s immediate reaction to the person who seems to suffer from pain could make other people pay attention to the male. As a result, it is important to speak about pluralistic ignorance when all people decide that the person asking for help can become a threat to them. Therefore, it is possible to observe the diffusion of responsibility when no one decides to take responsibility for helping the man cope with his sufferings.
Question: What fears can be associated with bystanders’ unwillingness to help others and how to address them?
Did You Step In?
Several years ago, there was a situation that can be discussed as an emergency. Two young females were standing and speaking to each other on a street corner that was not crowded with people or cars. However, their children, two little boys, were playing with a ball and a bicycle not only on the sidewalk but also on the road. The women were involved in the conversation, and they did not notice that their children ran with a ball on the road, and some cars had to brake abruptly. I could notice the situation from a long distance because I was crossing a street, but I saw that no one reached those women or their boys to tell them about risks and prevent an accident. Even when one of the boys fell on the ground, there were no reactions from the women or witnesses.
I realized that I was obliged to change my direction and say something to the women. I saw that other people did nothing, and I understood that they acted in the wrong way. I came to the women and warned them that there were no stop signs on that street, and cars did not brake in most cases. The women thanked me and went to the parking zone. I can state that I demonstrated prosocial behavior because of trying to prevent a risky situation for little boys (Richman, DeWall, & Wolff, 2015). However, I did not demonstrate any altruism because my actions were caused by logical conclusions and reasons rather than by the desire to help (Aronson et al., 2016). Furthermore, I hesitated before coming to the women. Still, my behavior can be discussed in the context of the empathy-altruism hypothesis because I thought about those children and I wanted some people to help my little nephews if they are in a similar situation.
Question: How is it possible to differentiate between altruism and a rational decision to help another person?
Aronson, E., Wilson, T., Akert, R., & Sommers, S. R. (2016). Social psychology (9th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
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HeroicImaginationTV. (2011). The bystander effect. Web.
Richman, S. B., DeWall, C. N., & Wolff, M. N. (2015). Avoiding affection, avoiding altruism: Why is avoidant attachment related to less helping? Personality and Individual Differences, 76(1), 193-197.