Jun 28

Overcoming the bystander effect

Overcoming the Bystander Effect online

You’ve most likely heard of the Bystander Effect. It’s one of our little quirks that means that the more people witness an incident, the less likely they are to intervene.

One of the most cited cases is that of Kitty Genovese, stabbed to death in New York in 1964. 38 poeple claimed to have witnessed her murder. No-one intervened, or even called the police.

There are a number of reasons cited for this. The diffusion of responsibility, our brains’ slowness to react to extraordinary events, even social conditioning – the need to conform to what everyone else is doing.

A recent study, however, has shown that there are ways to overcome this, at least on-line. Marco van Bommel, van Prooijen, Elffers and Van Lange have recently released a paper demonstrating the conditions in which this effect can be negated.

Their first experiment involved a chat room used by people with emotional problems. 86 students (note: psychology is generally the study of the psychology of psychology students!) were logged in and their on-line behavior monitored. The were told that they could write replies to a any queries or issues that came up, but it was their decision.

Part of the screen they were using showed the number of people signed on to the forum, and true to form, the busier the forum was, the less likely the subjects were to get involved.

The researchers then added a twist. When the subjects name was highlighted in red on a list of people in the forum, they actually posted more replies than when the room was quiet!

The second half of the experiment involved telling the subjects that at a later point in the study a webcam would be involved, and they were to check their screen for a blue LED light telling them it was on. Against a control group who were not told this, the first group again got more involved even when the room was busy.

So what has this got to do with charities?

Well, it would seem from this that the cue to getting people more involved is to highlight their self-awareness. And, with more and more of our social life taking place online, this study has direct relevance.

But, as with most studies, this is just the starting point. Its up to the charity sector to find ways to use this information to get people more involved in the issues important to us.

If you have any ideas how this can help your cause, do let us know!

Image courtesy of Freedigitalphotos.net