Bystander Involvement

In March 1964 Kitty Genovese was brutally murdered in New York while 38 of her neighbors watched from their apartment windows. Even though the attack lasted over 30 minutes, no one called the police until it was over. As a direct result of this incident, a great deal of empirical and theoretical knowledge has been generated on the topic of bystander involvement.

According to a model developed by Latane and Darley (1970), the decision to intervene consists of a series of decisions. First, the bystander must notice that something is happening. Second, the bystander must interpret or label what has been noticed as an emergency. Third, the bystander must decide that he or she has a responsibility to become involved. Fourth, the bystander must decide what form of assistance to render. And fifth, the bystander must decide how to implement the previous decision. Research findings supporting the model attest to the important role played by social influence factors at two stages of the model—labeling the event as an emergency and feeling responsible for becoming involved. Bystanders may use the actions of others in the situation to help them interpret the event. If the others are unsure themselves about what is happening and hesitate to take action, each may use this seeming passivity of others to label the event as a non-emergency. Even when a bystander is certain that the event is an emergency, the presence of others may diffuse responsibility for taking action. As a result, bystanders are less likely to aid the victim. This diffusion of responsibility explanation of bystander involvement is supported by a wide range of empirical findings showing that the greater the number of bystanders present, the less likely a victim is to receive aid (Latane & Nida, 1981).

Another model of bystander involvement for which there is considerable empirical support is the Arousal: Cost-Reward Model first proposed by I. M. Piliavin, Rodin, and J. A. Piliavin (1969), and more recently expanded to cover nonemergency helping (J. A. Piliavin, Dovidio, Gaertner, & Clark, 1981). The model consists of two components—an arousal component and a cost-reward component. The components are conceptually distinct but functionally related. The model proposes that bystanders are aversively aroused by the victim's distress, that they are motivated to reduce their arousal, and that helping the victim is one way to accomplish this. According to the model, "arousal is a function of the clarity and severity of the crisis and of the psychological and physical closeness of the bystander to the victim" (Dovidio, J. A. Piliavin, Gaertner, Schroeder, & Clark, 1991, p. 89). In their search for ways to reduce their arousal, bystanders are guided by their assessment of the rewards and costs of each option. The model proposes that they will prefer responses that most rapidly and completely reduce arousal and that yield the most favorable costs-rewards ratio. For example, the costs of intervening could include effort and physical harm, whereas rewards could include feelings of efficacy and expressions of gratitude from the victim.

The model is sufficiently broad to account for the influence of a wide array of personality and situational variables. Arecent review of relevant research indicates strong empirical support for many aspects of the model (Dovidio et al., 1991). While successive versions of the model have added to its breadth, the model has become increasingly complex (the current version has eight boxes and 17 arrows), making causal analysis more difficult.

Batson and his colleagues have challenged the Arousal: Cost-Reward Model, claiming that it assumes bystanders are egoistically motivated (Batson, 1987). That is, it assumes that bystanders' primary concern is to reduce their own distress and helping the victim is a means for achieving this goal. In contrast, Batson proposes a model of helping based on empathic concern. According to his Empathy-Altruism Hypothesis, witnessing another individual in distress can lead to empathic concern, involving feelings of sympathy, compassion, and tenderness. Such emotions can "evoke motivation with an ultimate goal of benefitting the person for whom the empathy is felt—that is, altruistic motivation" (Batson, 1998, p. 300). In a series of experiments that controlled for alternative egoistic motivation, Batson (1987) demonstrated strong support for altruistically motivated helping. The research thus suggests that there can be multiple motives for bystanders' reactions and that their helping behavior can best be viewed as a weighted function of egoistic and altruistic motives.

Two important moderators of bystander reactions are attributions and type of relationship. The types of attributions bystanders make about the victim and about themselves (e.g., their arousal) can influence their helping behavior. For example, bystanders have been found to be less likely to aid a victim if they view the victim as being responsible for his or her fate (Lerner, 1980). The type of relationship that the bystander has with the victim can also moderate helping. Bystanders who feel a sense of "we-ness" with the victim, or who are in a communal relationship with the victim (Clark & Mills, 1979), may feel more empathy for the victim and thus experience greater arousal and distress than bystanders who perceive the victim as being different or as being a member of an out-group.

Personality factors have been found to provide a poorer accounting of bystander involvement than have features of the situation. Although there has been some recent success in identifying dispositional predictors of helping, correlations rarely exceed 0.30-0.40, leaving about 85-90% of the variance unaccounted for (Batson, 1998).

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Do Not Panic

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