Whenever encountering another person in a potentially dangerous or harmful situation, people have two choices: to help or withdraw. While much depends on the views and priorities of a particular human being, there are also more general psychological principles at play. The willingness to help depends on numerous factors, such as culture, group size, and personality traits, and manifests in situations people can easily encounter in real life.
I have personally witnessed a situation where a person likely in need of help was ignored. Several years ago, as my bus passed the street and I sat beside the window, I have noticed a man sitting on the sidewalk with a vacant expression on his face slowly rocking back and forth. People walked around him but, for as long as my bus passed the scene, no one tried to help. It is hard to say whether this person was in dire need of help or not, but the fact was that no one attempted to provide it.
There are many factors that could affect a person’s willingness to help in a situation like this. The most obvious one is personal psychological traits: as demonstrated by Ruci, Allen, and Zelenski (2018), people with strong pro-social motivations are more likely to engage in helping behaviors even when they get nothing out of it personally. Apart from that, the likelihood of help is also inversely proportional to the size of the group. A person acting alone will be more inclined to act than the one surrounded by non-helpful peers (Cox & Adam, 2018). Thus, many factors may convince people to help.
However, there are also numerous reasons to withdraw in a critical situation. As mentioned above, the group size is crucial, and a large enough group of passive observers creates the situation when no one is inclined to help (Cox & Adam, 2018). This phenomenon is called the “bystander effect:” if a person perceives him- or herself as a part of a temporary group with the rule prohibiting intervention, he or she will most likely refrain from helping others in need.
Cultural factors are also important in shaping or preventing helping behaviors. For instance, if the culture promotes success as a virtue and drinking as a vice, the same person is much more likely to get help when dressed like a well-to-do gentleman rather than a street hobo (HeroicImaginationTV, 2011). Additionally, cultural representations of helpful behavior also have an impact – if TV praises helping behaviors, such as rescuing the flood victims, it may implicitly convince people to do the same (WFAA, 2017). Thus, one should not perceive the willingness to help as depending solely on psychological factors while ignoring the cultural ones.
I think this topic will teach me more about the people’s actions, whether pro-social or egoistic, when encountering those in need of help. By learning about the psychological and cultural mechanisms behind human behavior in such a situation, I can become more aware of them when encountering similar situations personally. It is an important learning goal because it will allow me to act consciously instead of following the informal rules of temporary groups.
To summarize, the likelihood of helping behavior depends on many factors. These range from psychological, such as personality traits and perception of the group size, to cultural, such as the ideas of virtues and vices and the representation of helping behavior in media. Regardless, learning more about these mechanisms is essential, as it promotes awareness that may prove useful in the future.
Cox. A., & Adan, A. (2018) The bystander effect in non-emergency situations: Influence of gender and group size. Modern Psychological Studies, 23(2), 1-13.
HeroicImaginzationTV (2011). The bystander effect. Web.
Ruci, L., Allen, Z. M., & Zelenski, J. M. (2018). Pro-social personality traits, helping behavior, and ego-depletion: Is helping really easier for the dispositionally pro-social? Personality and Individual Differences, 120(1), 32-29.
WFAA (2017). Rescues in Houston: Strangers helping strangers. Web.