Lifestyles Center Blog


Imagine that you are at a crowded party and you notice a couple start to speak loudly to each other. You then see them go in to another room, and you’re sure other people saw as well, and then you hear screaming and a thud. What do you do? Well, the bystander effect says that you probably do nothing. According to the bystander effect, the presence of others hinders an individual from acting during an emergency situation ( Because there are a lot of people in the room who you believe also witnessed the incident, a diffusion of responsibility occurs, you assume that someone else will do something. Well guess what, everyone assumes that and nothing is done.

The concept of the bystander effect became popular after the death of Kitty Genovese in 1964. Although there is some debate over the actual number of people who heard Kitty’s cries for help as she was murdered, the number is very high, with approximately 16 eyewitnesses and over 20 witnesses who at least heard her screams( John Darley and Bibb Latane, social psychologists, have been able to show in a lab that the bystander effect is real. In their experiments, participants were less likely to help during an emergency if there were more people present.

How can you be sure to take action when others are in need? Most importantly, take action. You shouldn’t assume that others are going to help, because science has shown that they won’t. The most effective way to intervene in the couple at the party situation explained above, which is likely to happen on a college campus, is to create a distraction, such as stopping the music, turning on or off the lights, or to say someone is looking for one of the people. Other situations that may occur in college age people where bystander effect may take part is in sexual assault or violence, discrimination, accidents, overdoses, stalking, and more. If you take action when you notice something isn’t right, you may help someone in ways you may not even believe.


Natalie Sumski, Peer Educator