The Bystander Effect

Yes, I too have come across this research.

The experiment outside Liverpool Street Station is a poorly conducted experiment. Most people will think this to be a drunk, thus undeserving of help, thus measuring a different effect.

I am one of those rare individuals who does not walk on by or at least tries not to.

I recall a few years ago, early hours of the morning, in a foreign country finding a man like this, lying on the pavement, his head bashed and bloody. He was not moving, he could have been dead.

One has to be wary, it could be a scam, the person could be mad or drunk, they may leap up and grab you and stick a knife in you, or they could be ill, could have had a heart attack, a stroke or tripped and fallen. You just do not know.

I talked to the security guard of a nearby hotel and asked him to call the police. I did not hang around as it is never wise to get involved with the police, and certainly not in a foreign country.

Paulo Coelho describes, I think in Like the Flowing River, of coming to the aid of a man who everyone walked on by.

I have a reputation for helping waifs and strays, but you get no thanks, no rewards, but do get a lot of grief.

At the End of Days, Jesus is sitting in judgement, separating the sheep from the goats: Why did you not help me when I asked for water? But you never asked. I was the beggar you turned away.

There are always those who are less fortunate than ourselves, but sadly most people walk away, they do not want to be involved.

It is not just as individuals, it is also as a society. The savage welfare cuts taking place in England are hitting the poor and disadvantaged hardest, those who can least cope.

Why does the world sit silently by whilst Israel practices ethnic cleansing against the Palestinians? In Iraq Christians are being slaughtered, and yet the churches in the West are silent.

Few heed the tale of the Good Samaritan. They may pay lip service, but when it comes to action, deeds not words, as we saw with the Good Samaritan, nearly everyone walks on by.

Few are like Canon Andrew White (aka the Vicar of Baghdad) who works tirelessly helping the people of Iraq and the Middle East.

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3 Responses to “The Bystander Effect”

  1. Susan Says:

    Have seen many of such situations in real life and heard told…..
    On various occasions I did approach the person in need of help and
    whilst doing so other passers-by too….almost ‘commanding’ them to
    DO something TOO…ring an ambulance, give their coat, anything to…
    help the person in need…..One shocking story someone told me….
    A man had jumped into a canal to try and save a child……loads of people looking on, but not doing anything. One person was VIDEOING
    the ‘scene’ and afterwards PROUDLY announced: Wow I have it ALL recorded !!! Both man and child had drowned !!! How de-sensitized can
    we ‘become’ ???
    Let us NOT become that way…
    Love Susan

    • keithpp Says:

      As already noted the experiment and even more so the conclusions drawn are seriously flawed. The people do not intervene because they are selfish and self-centred, not because they belong to a group of passers by and do not wish to be the odd one out. There is also fear. What will be the reaction of the person on the ground, will they attack me? Note the different reaction to the man in a smart suit, he is seen as one of us, he is not seen as a threat, he must have slipped and fallen, maybe ill, he needs help.

      This also explains why Palestinians get little support. They are seen as alien, and the women do not help themselves all covered up (which is not required in the Koran), whereas the Israelis are seen as one of us, we can relate to them. Few look beyond these initial first few seconds impressions.

      The tale of the Good Samaritan is not just that the man goes to the aid of another, he goes to the aid of an enemy, someone who was not part of his group, whereas the others who were part of the same ethnic group walked on by. The significance of this is usually lost as with most Biblical stories people fail to understand the cultural and historical significance. For example Jesus mixed with children and women, Jews at the time did not, treated them as Muslims treat women today (even though forbidden in the Koran which explicitly grants women equal rights and status).

      It would be interesting to see this experiment (conducted properly) conducted in other countries and cultures. Would we get a different reaction? The Koran, for example, as we see in The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho when the man with the glass shop helps Santiago, places an obligation to help those in need. There are obligations in Christianity, but these are played down, whereas others come to the fore, to reinforce the existing power structure, for example the role of women, a role that Jesus would not have recognised as for him women were treated as equals.


      PS As you see Susan you do occasionally get a reply, even a detailed reply! It depends upon whether or not I have something to say and the time in which to say it.

  2. Lainee Says:

    We now have a television series on ABC called, “What Would Do?” that is raising awareness to this situation. I do hope it helps.

    The Brazilian theatre director, Dr. Augusto Boal did something similar around the world with his theatre group…then developed many theatre styles one is called “Theatre of the Oppressed.” I find his theatre style very helpful when beginning a discussion about a problem…with school students…with administrators…and with local leaders…. This type of theatre can open eyes of the oppressor, by putting him/her/it into the shoes of the oppressed.

    Read about his works here:

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