Bystander Effect History

Bibb Latane and John Darley Experiments
  • By 1980, Latane and Darley had conducted nearly 50 experiments on the bystander effect.
  • They found that the single factor that most greatly influenced the way a person reacts in an emergency situation is the presence of others.
  • 90% (of 6,000 people) were more likely to act when they were alone.
  • During 1,497 elevator rides, Latane, James Dabbs, and 145 confederates dropped pencils or coins.  40% of the time, they were helped when the bystander was alone.  They were helped less than 20% of the time when there were six passengers on the elevator.
  • They concluded that the more bystanders there are, the less likely it is that someone will notice the incident, interpret it as a problem/emergency, or assume responsibility for doing something,


Would You Notice?

  • Latane And Darley designed a study in 1968 to test this.  A man was left in a room to fill out a questionnaire, either alone or with two strangers.  The subject was observed through a one-way mirror.  Smoke was piped into the room.
  •  When the men were alone, they noticed the smoke almost immediately, usually in less than five seconds.  Subjects in groups took twenty seconds to notice.
  •  People are more likely to keep to themselves when in a group, which can be a distraction.

Is It An Emergency?

  • People look to others in order to form their own reactions.  In the smoke study, the men tended to look around the room in order to gauge whether the smoke was a serious situation.
  • People are afraid of embarrassing themselves in a group, so they may mistake others’ passivity for genuine lack of concern.

Would You Act?

  • When others are around, this takes away a person’s responsibility to act.  They may assume someone else is already helping.
  • An example of this is that people are less likely to stop on the freeway for someone who is experiencing car trouble versus stopping on an abandoned road for the same reason.
  • In 1968, Latane and Darley staged an experiment where a person was placed in a room and could hear someone in a nearby room having a seizure and pleading for help.
  • 85% of those who believed there were no other listeners left the room to get help.  Only 31% reacted when they thought four others could also hear the pleas for help.
  •  Conclusion: People do not realize why they do what they do.  When questioned, many responded that they would have reacted the same way regardless of who was around.

There is Hope!

  • Arthur Beaman and his colleagues (1978) conducted experiments with University of Montana students, which revealed that once people understand the bystander effect, they become more likely to help in a group situation.