The Bystander Effect

Bystander Effect Crowds

Ever seen something and thought to yourself ‘I ought to do something about that but … nah, someone else will do it”? This is commonly known as The Bystander Effect and is a recognised social psychological event. Basically, when we are in public and see a situation or event against which action should be taken, we are less likely to help if there are other people present. The greater the number of bystanders, the less inclined individuals are to help. People essentially assume that those around them will step in and, therefore, do nothing themselves. However, if everyone has that mentality then the world becomes a rather scary place.


The Bystander Effect was recognised in the 1960s after a woman was stabbed to death outside her apartment while 38 witnesses (bystanders) did nothing to help, nor did they call the emergency services. They all seemed to think that their neighbours would be doing exactly that, so why should they? The consequences of this Bystander Effect phenomenon can be fatal, it seems. Psychologists did research into this extraordinary event to determine how so many people could have just stood by and watched their neighbour die.


But an event needn’t be so violent nor deadly to trigger the bystander effect. It can be a menial problem like someone with a flat tyre on the side of the road. Do you always stop? Or if someone drops something in a shopping centre, there’s only ever one person who picks it up and returns it (and they’re rarely the first person to pass). To do what is right in a crowded space, one must be a fundamentally kind-hearted person.


Research into the Bystander Effect shows that the more people we are surrounded by when we see someone in need of help, the less likely we are to help. We all think other people will do the right thing. Some studies have called this diffusion of responsibility. This has been proven to be true by working in the opposite direction. If you witness something when you are alone or with only a few people around, you are more likely to help. This is because, as the only person there, you feel compelled by the feeling of responsibility to do something. If you pass a car crash in the middle of the day, for example, you’ll probably drive past (if you can) and not stop to help unless you were a trained medical professional. If you were to come across a crash in the middle of the night, however, you would stop without hesitation to try and assist.


This blog started with a rather violent example of the Bystander Effect but I believe this is something which can be applied to far more menial things. For example, I was walking down the road last week and a man motoed past me and dropped something. I could have walked into the road and picked it up, as the man himself was slowing down to turn around. But I didn’t. I carried on walking and watched as he did an awkward U-turn, came back, balanced carefully as he leaned down to pick up his fallen item and then drove off again. I could have made that so much easier. Why didn’t I?


When you’re driving along and see a hazard in the road such as a fallen tree branch or a dislodged rock, do you always stop to move it out of the way? No, of course you don’t. Our lives are far too busy to be stopping and doing good for others all the time. If we maneuvered safely around the obstacle, surely others will be able to do the same until someone who isn’t in a rush has the time to pull over and clear the way.


More Good Deeds is all about encouraging people to do these small acts of kindness. They’re things we see every day but often choose not to do because we’re busy or stressed or think ‘someone else will do that’. Why don’t you do it? You can make the world a better place, an easier place, a happier place, just by taking a little responsibility and not feeling the pressure of the Bystander Effect. And remember you can always do even more good by posting your kindness in our More Good Deeds app and we’ll donate $1 to your chosen charity. It’s really a win-win situation!


Go. Do. Experience. More Good Deeds.