I was involved in an unspecified research experiment conducted by a psychology University student in our neighborhood as part of his class requirement. He invited 20 females and 20 males to his house. He explained to us that he was conducting a research on the effect of different music genre. He said that he wanted to observe how people react when different music genres are played. There was a camera man to film the experiment. I believe that people prefer different music in different situations. For example, sad situations call for soft and emotional songs while in celebratory situation, pop and loud music is preferred.
As we interacted, listened and danced to the different music played, we heard a loud bang outside the house. A lady got out of the car followed by a young man who seemed to be holding some weapon. There was some altercation between them for about five minutes and then suddenly the lady fell to the ground as if she had been hit by the guy. The young man then walked to his car and drove away. We watched as the argument ensued outside but no one went out to solve the situation. No one even thought of calling the police during the altercation. However, after the young man had left the scene, a few guys rushed beside the young lady. I suggested that we call the police .I was afraid to get out for fear of the young guy coming back again.
I had no idea that I was participating in a bystander effect experiment. I thought we were being involved in a music psychology experiment. I only came to know about the real experiment when the researcher debriefed us later.
The altercation between the young man and the lady made me so fearful. I thought the man would kill the young lady .I felt that the lady needed help but I could not go to help her as I was scared for my own life. I believe everybody else in the room felt the same way I did. I also felt that since I was in someone else’s house, the owner of the house was in a better position to help.
When the researcher debriefed us, it made me really sad to know that individuals are more likely to offer help to a victim when they are few than when they are in a big crowd. A victim, for example of a car accident, would likely be assisted if the witnesses around him are few than when they are more.
When I went back to my house after the experiment, I further read about this very interesting psychological theory on bystander effect. It is a concept by John Darley and Bibb Latané. According to John and Bibb, individuals are more likely to offer help to a victim when they are few than when they are in a big crowd (Abbott and Cameron 182). John and Bibb came up with three reasons to explain why bystander effects occur. One factor that leads to bystander effect is if the witnesses (bystanders) are not sure if the person in distress requires their attention. The bystanders are likely to offer help in a less serious situation than in a more serious situation. Second factor is the environment in which the emergency happens. People are more likely to help if they are more familiar with the surroundings and the people around them. Diffusion of responsibility also contributes to bystander effect in the sense that each bystander believes someone else is responsible or more qualified to help.
I have always thought that I would be safer in an environment where there is a bigger gathering than in a smaller gathering. This hypothesis of mine however is disputed by the findings on bystander effect. I am now aware that a huge number of people around me in times of distress do not necessarily guarantee help.
Abbott, Nicola, and Lindsey Cameron. “What makes a young assertive bystander? The effect of intergroup contact, empathy, cultural openness, and in‐group bias on assertive bystander intervention intentions.” Journal of Social Issues 70.1 (2014): 167-182.