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The Bystander Effect: Safety In Numbers?

1710 words - 7 pages

On the night of March 13, 1964 at 3:10 in the morning, 28 year-old Kitty Genovese was stabbed repeatedly in front of an audience of 38 people. She screams, "Oh my God, he stabbed me! Please help me!" Instead of rushing to her side, the crowd only stares. Many of them turn and look the other way. One person yells from a nearby window, "Hey, leave that girl alone." The assailant takes off running, and Kitty is left on the pavement in front of her apartment, bleeding and begging for help. Some time passes. The assailant decides to return and begins stabbing her again. Now Kitty is screaming, "I'm dying! I'm dying!" The headlights of a bus that drives by startles the man, who then takes off running a second time, and hides behind a parked car. He watches silently as Kitty is dragging herself up her apartment stairs, screaming for her neighbors and the crowd to do something. It is now 3:45 in the morning, and the assailant returns for the third and final time. This time, however, the stab wound is fatal, and Kitty falls down dead (Newsweek, 1964).According to Davis and Palladino, the first phone call to the police arrived at 3:50 in the morning, five minutes after Kitty was already dead. The man who had called the station had first called a friend to ask advice as to what he should do. He did not even call the police from his own home, and instead went to another neighbor's apartment to call the station. He stated that he did not want to "get involved" (660).How can 38 people witness a woman's murder over a period of 35 minutes and not call the police? A psychological phenomenon known as the "Bystander Effect" is commonly to blame for a crowd's inaction during an emergency.Sociologists and psychologists who have studied the causes of the Bystander Effect have come to several conclusions. One of the most famous studies conducted on the subject was done a few years after the murder of Kitty Genovese and was carried out by social psychologists John Darley and Bibb Latane in 1968. Their findings indicate that diffusion of responsibility is perhaps the largest factor in determining how a bystander will respond in an emergency situation (378). The Wikipedia online encyclopedia defines diffusion of responsibility as a social phenomenon that tends to occur in groups of people above a certain critical size when responsibility is not assigned (Wikipedia, 2004). The bystander hesitates while looking to see how others in the group are reacting. As the group's size increases, a person's sense of responsibility decreases as they think that, "somebody else will do something."Another factor of the bystander effect is called Dual Process Theory, formulated by Duetsch and Gerard in 1955. The two processes at work in this theory are normative and informational influence. Normative influence is defined as, "influence to conform with the positive expectations of another, in order to avoid social sanctions." Informational influence is the "influence to accept information...

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