In a world where technology thrives, we can clearly see a significant shift in the way people interact and respond to one another. The virtual world has caused a vast amount of isolation, which arguably has resulted in a diffusion of responsibility to help our fellow members of society.
In an incessantly moving environment such as an urban city, there seems to be two groups located on opposite sides of the spectrum in terms of reacting to a social emergency; the “It’s not my problem” group, and the “How can you not step in?” group.
When asked, the majority would state that if someone were in danger they would be proactive and call for help, or personally step in. However, some people believe it is not his/her responsibility to possibly put themselves in danger by helping someone, therefore they mind his/her own business.
Expectedly, individuals report greater feelings of comfort and safety when in a crowd as opposed to being alone, due to the hope that if an emergency arises someone could witness and be of help. But in today’s society, this scarily is not always the case.
The Kitty Genovese murder of 1964 in New York City, of which sparked the social phenomena known as the ‘Bystander Effect’ proves this. Allegedly, there were several witnesses of the brutal stabbing and raping of Ms. Genovese of which did not act at all, or acted when it was already too late. The shock of these facts initiated social psychologists’ research in studying why and how people can be so dehumanized towards one another.
They began asking questions such as: Are our responses to someone in need innate? Does our social environment condition us to solely think of ourselves?
Interestingly, people are more likely to help someone/s if they are alone. According to Psychology Today, the bystander effect “occurs when the presence of others hinders an individual from intervening in an emergency situation.” Researchers have concluded three main reasons for this: Thinking that someone else already has or will take responsibility, social referencing, meaning people shape their actions to those around them, and lastly the natural shyness of not wanting to stand out in a crowd.
Although studies have been done with children, it still remains unclear of when this diffusion of responsibility kicks in and if it is biologically predetermined, or socially constructed.
My questions are: Has it gotten worse due to the heartless persona social media encourages us to have? Have we been so desensitized to trauma due to constant media coverage and animated violence?
It is extremely unsettling to think that if I were to be in a dangerous situation, that people around me would turn a blind eye. I fear that as society loses more of it's remaining solidarity, we will completely turn on each other, making us that much easier to control. If we do not help each other, who will?