The Psychological Phenomenon Known as the Bystander Effect
The Bystander Effect is a social phenomenon that causes people to be less likely to take action if there are more people around because everyone thinks someone else will take care of it, a psychological tendency in our society called diffusion of responsibility.
The story of Kitty Genovese is one of those jaw dropping fables one listens to dumbstruck in Psych 101. Kitty’s brother just put out a documentary on Netflix in which he personally re-investigates her murder. For some, the documentary seems to have called into question whether Kitty’s murder was truly an example of The Bystander Effect.
Even without the murder of Kitty Genovese, there are still countless examples of this phenomenon. How the hell can this be possible? The more people you have around you, the less likely you are to get help if you’re in an emergency situation. I first met this concept with denial and anger. This phenomenon is called Diffusion of Responsibility, we all start looking around for someone else to do it. I thought “No fucking way I would do that, and I refuse to believe that other people would”. And then I began to realize that I already have diffused responsibility and so has everyone else.
Since releasing this episode about The Bystander Effect, there have been new development in the Kitty Genovese story. A documentary call The Witness has been released on Netflix, which involves Kitty’s real-life brother in modern day, trying to fish-out the truth behind the story. Unpopular Culture is considering a follow-up episode to talk about this documentary and what it means for the implications of media influence. And even if the story of Kitty Genovese is debunked, somewhat, by the media exaggeration, doesn’t at all mean that They Bystander Effect and the theory of Diffusion of Responsibility are not present in small ways every day, with every person.