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Witness Effects in Emergency Situations

History has seen many examples of the bystander effect, a phenomenon that stops people from helping others in an emergency. It is important to understand the nature of this phenomenon and the factors that attribute to its occurrence to reverse it and minimize casualties.

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Social psychologists conducted numerous studies to examine the way the presence of others affects people’s helping behavior. The researchers found out that when many people are faced with an emergency, they are less likely to interfere due to the factor called the diffusion of responsibility. The diffusion of responsibility means that when others are present, an individual feels as if someone else is responsible for taking action and is less likely to take action himself (Ciccarelli & White, 2012, p. 15).

As such, the bystander effect occurs when a large group of people is present, and the presence of other people stops an individual from taking action. The experiments show that the larger the group of people present is, the less likely they are to intervene and help someone in danger (Levine & Crowther, 2008, p. 1429). An example of such behavior can be seen in the YouTube video The Bystander Effect. In a series of experiments, the journalists asked actors to pretend to be seriously ill or unconscious to try to attract the attention of people present at the Liverpool Street Station in London. The reaction of the bystanders was filmed, and even though there were many people at the station, most of them ignored the situation (The Bystander Effect, 2009).

This video shows the way people react to emergencies when they are present in the crowd and are pressured to behave in a socially acceptable way. In one of the experiments, conducted by the journalists, an actor was asked to pretend to be unconscious, and amid all the people passing by, one woman noticed that something was wrong. However, she did not intervene until someone else took action. When someone else stepped in, the woman felt as if it was socially acceptable to act like that in this situation, and took the responsibility herself.

It is important to note that the video showed an experiment, and the actors were not in an actual emergency. However, there were many examples of people watching other people being killed and choosing not to intervene (10 Notorious Cases of the Bystander Effect, 2009). Due to this fact, it is essential to try to overcome this phenomenon to reduce further losses. The best way to prevent the bystander effect is to raise awareness about this phenomenon, the factors that attribute to it, and the consequences it can have. Raising awareness can be done through TV ads, social media campaigns, presentations, etc. Another tactic recommended by psychologists is to single out one person, make eye contact with them, and ask them for help. It is speculated that people are more likely to respond when they specifically are under pressure to react.

Humans are social beings, and our behavior is largely defined by the behavior of other people. In the case of the bystander effect, it is important to raise awareness about this phenomenon and encourage people to take action when someone is in danger. It is vital to spread the message that by offering help, one can save lives.


10 Notorious Cases of the Bystander Effect. (2009). Web.

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Ciccarelli, S., & White, N. (2012). Psychology. New Jersey: Pearson Education.

Levine, M., & Crowther, S. (2008). The responsive bystander: how social group membership and group size can encourage as well as inhibit bystander intervention. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 95(6), 1429-1439. Web.

The Bystander Effect. (2009). Web.

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