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Research Proposal on Bystander Effect

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Psychology
Wordcount: 2423 words Published: 8th Feb 2020

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The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch them without doing anything.

          Albert Einstein


Bystander Apathy


It seems that when asked, people will respond positively. They would say that in an emergency situation, they would get help or act as a hero figure. But in reality, they tend to desist from actually helping when it occurs in real life. This happens to be the bystander effect in action. The bystander effect is when situations influence decision making which also creates a reduction in the helping behavior in the surrounding people. Even if others are present at the scene of the emergency situation, that doesn’t necessarily help. In fact, when others are more bystanders present, it causes people to refrain from helping even more (Hortensius and de Gelder, 2018). In 1968, John M. Darley and Bibb Latané tested out the bystander effect with a research program. Their research resulted in the findings that when there are more than five bystanders, only 62% intervened. But when there was only a sole bystander, it was most likely that they would help (Darley and Latané, 1968). This pattern was observed not only in serious accidents (Harris and Robinson, 1973), but also in noncritical situations (Latané and Dabbs, 1975), on the internet (Markey, 2000), as well as in children (Plötner, Carpenter, and Tomasello, 2015).

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There are three psychological factors that facilitates bystander apathy. The first is the feeling of having less responsibility when there are more bystanders present which is diffusion of responsibility. The second is the fear of unfavorable public judgment when helping or the evaluation apprehension. And lastly is the belief that due to no one else helping, the situation is not actually an emergency which is the pluralistic ignorance (Darley and Latané, 1968). There is some evidence that suggested that there are types of behavior that can be automatic and reflexive. It has been found that when someone observes a confrontation that seems to activate a specific part of the brain, the premotor cortex independent of attention or focus. There were experiments trying to determine how the number of bystanders affected the act of someone helping in a threatened situation. It was found that the more bystanders present, it created a decrease in brain activity in the district that is essential for the preparation of help. These areas are the pre- and postcentral gyrus and also the medical prefrontal cortex (Hortensius and de Gelder, 2018).

What hurts the victim most is not the cruelty of the oppressor, but the silence of the bystander.

-Elie Wiesel


The Intervention


For the purpose of this intervention I wanted to focus on the bystander effect in relation to dating violence. An article stated that, “…campus violence prevention programs should consider context-specific issues in their trainings such as relational distance and type of crime.” What they found in a study of whether or not the bystander knew or had relation to the victim or perpetuator, they were more likely to intervene (Palmer, Nicksa, and McMahon, 2018). For this specific intervention, the main focus is to educate people on the bystander affect. This intervention will be on the course of four days. For the first day, there will be a survey sent through the UH email that asks students to answer a few questions. In addition to the survey, the next day there will be posters put up around campus. There will be different posters that relate to both the bystander effect and dating violence. And the third day will put the bystander effect in action. The last day will include an open to the public final intervention regarding the bystander effect and dating violence.

Day One:

Survey Questions: (Survey is chosen to be anonymous or not)

  1. Have you heard about the bystander affect? If so, How?
  2. If you were a bystander in a dating violence situation, would you intervene?
  3. Would the fact that there are more bystanders present, affect your response?
  4. If you are the only sole bystander present in a threatening situation, would you intervene? How would you react?

There will be a booth set up on campus with people urging people to be involved with this study. The surveys purpose is to have an idea of how people will answer the questions on paper, as compared to the situation happening in real life.

Day Two:

Poster #1: There will be a picture of a woman sitting on the floor hugging her knees with a black high. She is looking up to the camera, as a man is above her with his fist out. In addition, the text will be: “HELP: You could have, but you didn’t.”

Poster #2: A photograph of a woman with hurtful words written allover her body. These words range from things that her partner may call her, things that he says, and any other hurtful things that he may yell to her. This will demonstrate that dating violence is not only physical. The text on this poster will read: “All it takes is ONE.”

Poster #3: There will be a picture of a woman laying on the ground as if she has just been knocked out. With her eyes open and towards the reader, a man is standing above her. The text will be: “Help was right here, but nothing was done.”

The purpose of the posters is that posted around campus it will grab the attention of everyone including students, visitors, and professors/instructors, etc. In order to show that these things are real, people seeing them need to see how bad it can be or result to. Situations with dating violence may start off as if nothing is really happening but escalate to serious problems. Often the victim is afraid and wants someone to step in to help them.

Day Three:

A situation will be created in public at three different locations and at the same time. A girl will be getting yelled at by a guy. Nothing very serious (physically), but will involve certain things such as…

  1. I would love to hit you right now!
  2. Do you know how mad I am right now!

It will involve things being said that will draw bystander’s attention. The guy will also slowly force the girl towards a wall until she is against the wall and continue to yell at her. This should draw attention. The purpose of creating a situation is to see if any one will intervene in any way. It will be video taped for the sake of the study as well. Once As soon as someone or some people intervene, they will be told that it was part of an experiment. Then bystanders will be asked to answer just one question.

  1. Did you intervene in any way? If so, how? If not, why not?

Day Four:

The final intervention will include multiple speakers from professors to people telling their own stories o being a bystander who intervened and victims who are thankful that someone did. This will be open to the public. There will also be a repeat of the same survey done on day one. This survey will conclude of the same questions with the addition of one, “Will you allow yourself to miss the chance to help someone in need?” This survey will again be sent out through the UH email. In addition, a link to the video of the final intervention will also be included in the email. On this day there will also be a photobooth that includes props as well as signs that say, “I will be an effective bystander.” By including a fun photobooth it will draw more awareness and cause people to remember it more and see it because they will have a picture of them supporting the cause.

I always wondered why somebody didn’t do something about that, then I realized I’m that somebody.



Will it work?


The intervention should work because not only does it have a combination of different ways to attack the issue, but it also includes a real time learning process. On the first day when people fill out the survey, they will be thinking about the situation. Then on the second day when they visually see the posters around campus, it will get them to realize that it’s something that actually happens. On the third day they will have real life experience with a similar situation. It doesn’t matter it they intervened or not because just being a bystander and present at the situation is enough. By being a bystander that intervened, it will make them feel good that they did the right thing. Then by being a bystander that didn’t intervene, it will allow them to process their feelings and maybe they will think to themselves, “I wanted to help, but I didn’t know how to.” These thoughts may result them in actually intervening if they are ever a bystander in a similar situation in the future. Then lastly, the final intervention will allow people to come and even bring others. The purpose of the intervention is to allow people to come and get the additional information they need for future situations regarding the bystander effect.

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The social responsibility norm is the societal rule that people should help those who need their help. In other words, we should indeed help those who are dependent of our help. Bystanders have the ability to influence the activity of the social responsibility norm, as well as the resolution to help. This serves in three different ways, being as a source of help, as a source of information pertaining to if help is required, and as a source of approval or disapproval of helping the action. The bystander effect may generate observers to think that someone else, maybe someone more qualified, would be the one to help. As stated by Latané and Darley there is a procedure called diffusion of responsibility. This is the proclivity that each group member weakens their own personal responsibility for proceeding action by spreading it unto other group members. This is the action that no one feels the obligation to take action, and it results in no one doing so (Darley and Latané, 1968). The social responsibility norm, as well as the diffusion of responsibility will cause bystanders to spread the helping responsibility to other bystanders. This act will cause it to seem that the victim is less dependent on the bystanders for help because there is so much, thus resulting in the norm that causes bystanders to weaken their duty to help (Kenrick, 2015).

The intervention should be a success because the main focus will be, “All it takes is one. But the more help, the better!” Just because some one else doesn’t step up and take action, doesn’t mean that it’s the right thing to do. If a situation seems alarming, even the slightest, it is the responsibility of the bystander (any or all) to simply ask, “Is everything okay here?” A simple question could help to prevent a threatening situation and even save a life.

Whenever one person stands up and says, “Wait a minute, this is wrong.” It helps other people do the same.”

-Gloria Steinem

Intervention Evaluation of Effectiveness

In order to evaluate effectiveness of the evaluation, we will gather up the surveys from day one and day four. By comparing the statistics of each question, we will be able to conclude if we have reached out to more people and made it known how important it is to help. The goal is to do the right thing, no matter who is watching. If you see something that seems wrong in any way, especially in situations where there is a victim, go on and help. It is okay for more than one person to get help and/or offer help. The more help that they receive, the safer the situation will become. The evaluation of effectiveness will allow us to compare the first findings of the survey, to the second. Then depending on how they differ, if the numbers go up then we will know that it had worked and if it decreases then we will know that it didn’t. Below is an example of a bar graph to show the results of one survey. Once we have the information concluded form both surveys, we will be able to compare the data.

He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.

-Martin Luther King Jr.


  • Darley J. M., Latané B. (1968). Bystander intervention in emergencies: Diffusion of responsibility. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 8, 377–383.
  • Harris V. A., Robinson C. E. (1973). Bystander intervention: Group size and victim status. Bulletin of the Psychonomic Society, 2, 8–10.
  • Hortensius R., de Gelder B. (2018). From Empathy to Apathy: The Bystander Effect Revisited. Article: Volume 27 Issue 4, 249-256.
  • Kenrick, D. (2015). Social Psychology: Goals in Interaction, 6th Edition. Pearson.
  • Latané B., Dabbs J. M. Jr. (1975). Sex, group size and helping in three cities. Sociometry, 38, 180–194.
  • Markey P. M. (2000). Bystander intervention in computer-mediated communication. Computers in Human Behavior, 16, 183–188.
  • Palmer J.E., Nicksa S.C., McMahon S. (2018). Does who you know affect how you act? The impact of relationships on bystander intervention in interpersonal violence situations. Volume 33 Issue 17, 2623-2642.
  • Plötner M., Over H., Carpenter M., Tomasello M. (2015). Young children show the bystander effect in helping situations. Psychological Science, 26, 499–506. doi:10.1177/0956797615569579


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