If to discuss the fact that some kind of cognitive distortions can be dangerous in real life, then the “bystander effect” undoubtedly belongs to them. However, this effect carries a threat, not to those who are exposed to it but to completely random people. This cognitive bias is that a person is less likely to come to the victim’s aid if there are other people around. Below, the discussion on the mentioned effect will be provided, with a focus on the related concepts of diffusion of responsibility, pluralistic ignorance, and victim effects.
Several experiments allowed scientists to conclude that the behavior of people in a situation that is dangerous for an outsider may be due to the so-called diffusion of responsibility. The latter suggests that a person is less likely to accept responsibility for action or inaction if there is someone else around him or her. The diffusion of responsibility makes a person think that in a large group of people, there will always be someone who can help the victim, which means that this person can remain an outside observer. In addition, in some cases, people do not assist the victim, as they believe that someone else will do it more skillfully – for example, someone will turn out to be a doctor. They think that their unskilled actions will only hinder the real savior, which will result in taking responsibility.
It should be noted that the effects of others are more apparent within the scope of a more ambiguous case. For instance, when other individuals behave calmly in the situation of an upcoming emergency, given their tentative about the consequences of this emergency, bystanders might not perceive it as dangerous. Such behavior may result in yet other bystanders assuming that there is no need for action. The described example is defined as pluralistic ignorance. However, when other individuals are shocked, a bystander is more likely to understand that danger has taken place and suggest that help is required.
Then, there are also several victim effects in the framework of the topic. In particular, the important aspect here is a bystander’s relationship with a victim and the severity of danger that is expressed by this victim. A person is more likely to help when he or she recognizes the victim – in this situation, assistance will be provided almost for sure. Then, the more impulsive and notable the victim’s expression of the danger, the more he or she will get help (Bennet et al., 2016). Nevertheless, witnesses to the incident explain their refusal to assist the victim not only by transferring responsibility to other people. For example, there are several reasons for their safety or a subjective assessment of the seriousness of the situation. A person is not encouraged to take part in an emergency when he or she feels the risk of being endangered.
Moreover, bystanders’ decisions related to their responsibility to provide help may be influenced by cultural pressure and norms. “Researchers have demonstrated the effect of situational expectations on helping behavior by presenting people with an emergency in an area they have been told not to enter” (Blagg, 2016, para. 13). Bystanders who were informed that they could not enter this emergency area were less likely to help. Hence, it seems that social and normative context is a substantial factor that affects bystanders’ decision on intervention.
To conclude, the bystander effect was discussed, with an emphasis on the related notions. It was found that diffusion responsibility, pluralistic ignorance, and victim effects, as well as normative pressure, affect the decision to provide help during an emergency considerably. The explored concept explains a plethora of psychological cases in which a person acts in an unethical manner, identifying the reasons from a bystander’s perspective.
Bennet, S., Banyard, V. L., & Edwards, K. M. (2016). The impact of the bystander’s relationship with the victim and the perpetrator on intent to help in situations involving sexual violence. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 32(5), 682–702.
Blagg, R. D. (2016). Bystander effect. Britannica. Web.