The Dangers of The Bystander Effect
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Health and Wellness

The Dangers of The Bystander Effect

Why There Were 38 Witnesses of a Murder.

The Dangers of The Bystander Effect
Rolling Alpha

The bystander effect is a psychological phenomena that pushes average people to ignore their surroundings and place responsibility on the others around them. For example, if you live in a household with four other people and you see the trashcan is full, you may take initiative and dispose of it. However, the more likely option is to assume that one of the other four people you live with will take it out. If you live alone, you are more likely to immediately take out the trash because you know nobody else is there to do it.

What causes us as humans to think like this? Is it simply the fact that we are selfish? That we are lazy? Not necessarily.

Social influence plays a large role in people deciding what deems as an appropriate response to abnormal situations. Nobody wants to be the odd man out of a crowd. The easy thing to do is blend in with what everyone is doing so you won’t be seen. One of the most famous cases of the bystander effect is the Kitty Genovese murder. On March 13, 1964 Kitty Genovese was stabbed and murdered in Queens, New York. It was said that there were 38 witnesses. Genovese was walking from her car to her boyfriend’s apartment around 3am while Winston Mosley, a business machine operator, who had already killed before, stalked after his next prey, knife in hand. Genovese became suspicious of the man walking behind her so she took off running but unfortunately it was too late. Mosley had already caught up to her in time to stab her once. A neighbor across the street heard Genovese’s screams and called out the window “Leave that girl alone!” She got back up and continued to run. She made it to the bottom of the stairs of her boyfriend’s apartment where she collapsed. Mosley caught up to her and found her and continued his work stabbing her. He then raped her and stole the money out of her wallet. After he finally left her alone, a neighbor found her and held her. It was not until 30 minutes later that another neighbor called the police but it was too late. She passed away at the hospital from the severity of her wounds. The number one question in my head when I first learned about this in my AP Psychology class was "well why didn't anybody do anything?". Here is where social influence comes into the picture.
After the Genovese case, the witnesses were asked why they didn’t intervene to save Kitty seeing that most of them were in the safety of their own homes and near phones. Now it might make sense that they wouldn’t want to run outside and try to fight off a murdered with a knife, however, all they had to do was pick up the phone. They had nothing to fear at all from simply calling the cops. One witness stated, “We thought it was a lover’s quarrel”. A married couple confessed, “We went to the window to see what was happening but the light from our bedroom made it difficult to see the street. I put the light on and were we able to see better”. This same couple were asked again why they didn’t call the cops and they simply stated, “I don’t know”. One of the coldest responses they got from a witness was, “I was tired. I went back to bed”. It only takes one person to ignore a situation for another person to play follow the leader. One of the easiest things in the world is to follow the crowd no matter how wrong the crowd may be. One person didn't do anything and so the next person turned a blind eye also. The third person didn't want to have anything to do with it either. This created a chain effect through out the rest of the supposed witnesses.

There is also a scientific explanation that tells us why we think in a way that causes us to instinctively put our safety before others and it is called the fight-or-flight response. The fight-or-flight response is a physiological reaction found to occur in an animal when it encounters an apparent threat. Humans are built like animals in this sense. We have a natural instinct to run away from danger or in this case, turn a blind eye and shut the curtains. We respond by releasing hormones that cause our heart rate to increase and our blood to quickly pump to our muscles. This gives us the ability to take off running if necessary.

So what do we do about it?

It is simple to look at other notorious cases of the phenomenon and tell yourself you would have definitely helped. You cannot put blame on other people until you have been in their position. Chances are the people who criticized the 38 supposed witnesses of the Kitty Genovese murder have never even come close to witnessing a murder- or anything close to a murder for that matter. They don’t have any idea to what extend that could affect a person. We must remember to train ourselves to take in our surroundings and decide if it could actually be in our best interest to take action.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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