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Why didn't they help? Bystander Paradox

I often use to wonder why students who are ragged alone in their rooms generally complain while those who are ragged along with others don't, in spite of the fact that mass ragging can be more offensive at times and thus more derogatory. I recently got the answer to this and to be forthright, a few other questions in a pessimistic concept (rather a paradox) of psychology called Bystander Intervention Problem. It suggests:
"More are the bystanders to an emergency; less is probability of their intervention."
This is strange to hear but then quite easy to contemplate. We might have ignored a man who had fallen in the crowd or a guy hit by a car on the road or a man being beaten in a brawl.  We all just go by ignoring it. You may say it was just that one time, but then study suggests that an average man in his life witnesses only six emergencies. It’s good for obvious reasons, but then when we encounter true emergencies we couldn't decide what to do due to lack experience. I recall once as a kid I was playing along with several other kids, suddenly a fat bully started pounding a weaker kid. I was closest to them but for a minute I stood there, ignoring the scuffle as if everything was normal. It took me a minute to spring into action and interfere. Well, no, I was not scared. I do get scared of a lot of things but that fatso was not one of them. Frankly speaking, I felt as if it was nothing important going on. I found out the answers while reading about an account of a dreadful but curious crime:

In 1964, Kitty Genovese while returning to her apartment in a quiet, middle-class neighbourhood in Queens was viciously attacked by a man with a knife. As the man stabbed her several times, she screamed for help. One neighbour yelled out his window for the man to "leave that girl alone," at which time the attacker began to walk away. But then he turned, knocked Genovese to the ground, and began stabbing her again. She continued to scream until finally someone telephoned the police. By the time police arrived, the girl was dead. The attack had lasted 35 minutes. During police investigations, it was found that 38 people in the surrounding apartments had witnessed the attack, but only one had eventually called the police. One couple (who said they assumed someone else had called the police) had moved two chairs next to their window in order to watch the violence.

The girl would have survived if someone would have acted a bit early. Entire USA was appalled by the lack of sensitivity on the neighbours' part. Alienation of urban lives, basic insensitive human nature and several other factors were blamed as the reasons. But, Darley and Latane were the psychologist who suggested the aforementioned paradox. They performed several controlled psychological experiments to confirm their hypothesis.It was observed that when an emergency has only one bystander the probability of intervention twice as compared to the one with several bystanders.  The experiment designs were ingenious for which you can refer to their detailed works, here I would only discuss their significance and explanations:

  • Presence of others relieves us from our individual responsibility in an emergency leading to diffusion of responsibility and we expect someone else to take the blame.

  • It is because when we help a person in need we get credit and appreciation and refusing to help has shameful connotations. Now, presence of a crowd leads to dispersion of both appreciation (reduced incentive) and shame (reduced obligation) and thus this social influence reduces intervention. 

  • At times,we are unable to comprehend whether it is an emergency situation. So we refrain from helping from fear of being ridiculed or being considered an intruder. "I remember, once in a mall, a guy and girl were fighting, a gentleman intervened but it turned out they were couples, gentleman was left embarrassed." Even in the aforementioned case of murder, a lot of neighbours believed it was a lover's fight and they didn't wish to seem intruding. It is what the psychologist call, evaluation apprehension (fear of being evaluated wrong by others) and as helping behaviour carries with it the possibility of looking foolish, people avoid helping in ambiguous situations.

  • Last but not the least is risk-assessment, now at times risk against helping is too high. Now, no one wishes to go against a man with a gun. This is a factor beyond our control and evidently depends on the heroism of the bystanders. 
If you are really puzzled why I decided to discuss this strange paradox is because the same study of    Darley and Latane demonstrates that those onlookers who know about bystander intervention paradox have greater tendency to intervene in an emergency situations. Here I would be forthright and clarify that I do not ask you forego risk assessment but you can risk being foolish if that can sometime save someone's life. Don't just be there waiting for someone else to act, behave as if you are the only one present. If you are scared that you may look foolish if you act, trust me everyone else is feeling the same. Be the one to act, after all, one takes the initiative, makes all the difference.  


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