Free «Strategies to Overcome Bystander Effect» Essay Sample



The presence of numerous people witnessing a criminal activity or a disastrous call spreads the responsibility across them. While one person hesitates to offer help, he thinks the next person is going to offer help. It is a situation where individuals look upon others. The phenomenon of failing to help because of diffused responsibility is referred to the bystander effect. This effect was clearly demonstrated in 1964 when a woman called Kitty was murdered and 38 witnesses of the murder did not report the incident to the police. A social psychologist Levine asserts that a group of people with their norms may fail to help, if the action is considered to contravene the group’s norms. Whereas the criminal activity may be happening within a group, group members consider concealing the action to protect the reputation of the group.

Thesis statement:

-The story of the murder of Kitty Genovese in 1964 has enlightened people on to overcome the bystander effect including the principles of bystander effect, definition of roles, and security of witnesses



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Strategies to Overcome Bystander Effect

Understanding the Principles of Bystander Effect

 Despite the theories put forward to justify bystander effect, there are strategies, which can be employed to counteract the effect. According to social scientist Arthur Beaman, when people are enlightened on the principles of bystander effect, they are likely to offer help to people in distress. For instance, if people who witnessed the murder of Kitty Genovese were aware of the of bystander effect, they would have offered their help. People need to be informed that reporting a criminal activity is the correct thing to do. In reference to Mike McQueary’s case, if the institution had clearly stipulated its ethics, maybe McQueary could have alerted the police. Fear of intimidation and desire to cover up the evils of the institution made him not to report to the police.      

Definition of Roles

Various counteract mechanisms have been proposed by social scientists and psychologists. However, one appraisable mechanism is definition of the roles strategy. If a person is distressed and a crowd of people is watching, he/she can pinpoint one person from the crowd. This defines the person as the one to help. The moment he steps forward to help, the rest of the people will follow to salvage the situation. For instance, if one bystander in Kitty’s incident was pinpointed to help, the situation could have been saved.

Security of witnesses

Last, bystanders may fail to report criminal activities for the fear they might be apprehended as acquaintances to the criminals. It is vital for law enforcement authorities to ensure security of witnesses who report criminal incidents. The reporters should not be incriminated. This would give people a confidence to stand out beyond bystander effect and report criminal cases.


The crime in which Kitty was murdered in the presence of 38 witnesses who refused to inform the police brings out the issue of bystander effect. May be the witnesses feared being implicated or the lack of defined roles in the incident derailed their response. The observation is a call for understanding the bystander principle in order to help future situations.



This is an illustration of the murder of Kitty indicating why the witnesses did not get involved. The issue of defining bystanders’ roles is evident because it helps to show the person to lead the rest. When an incident as Kitty’s occur, people look up to each because they want to conform to social norms. No one is usually ready to take the first step.

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Thesis statement: The illustration of the 1964 murder of Kitty reveals that the bystanders fear getting involved, they want to conform to social norms, and  lack of defined roles.

Illustration of 1964 Murder of Kitty Genovese

Fear of Involvement

Whereas the actions of the people who witnessed the murder of Kitty might be viewed as careless, it is imperative to point out that people cared. Majority of the people, who were present when the murder took place in 1964, assert that they did not want to get involved. One of the witnesses interviewed, said she did not want her husband to get involved. It is a social convention that people tend to avoid situations, which appear to contravene the ethics and norms within the social group. It paramount to note from the article, "Thirty-eight Who Saw Murder Didn't Call the Police,” people acted in their own interest. Whereas some of the witnesses thought that it has been a lovers’ quarrel, they were never concerned to resolve it.

Lack of clear Definition of Roles  

It is evident from the article that when people are in a large group, there is no one who wants to assume responsibility. Every person thinks that the other person can probably do it better than he can. Because in a group there are defined duties, it is the responsibility of any person to take up a responsibility. The story of Kitty’s murder illustrates situations where roles are not defined, and they might end up not being done. In Kitty’s case, there was no person who was personally responsible to intervene. However, if Kitty could have called out a name, the person could have helped. Other people could have also followed to offer assistance.

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Conformity to Social Norms     

This instance is an illustration of psychological composition of people’s minds, and the way they conform to social pressure. People will hesitate to participate in activities, which appear to be socially unacceptable. It is clear that people tend to participate in activities where they seem to blend with social composition. The components brought out by the case are “self-awareness, social cues, blocking mechanisms and diffuse responsibility”.

People are not aware that other people in the group of witnesses might be looking up to them to offer assistance. All the people end up looking up to each other and ultimately no volunteer who comes up. The aspect spreads the responsibility to offer help to all people. Hence, the more people present the less likelihood that any one will help. However, the case points out how strongly people are inclined to social norms, as they had better fail to help, but conform to the norms. This compounds the problem instead of assisting.     

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Finally, the case helps to illustrate the pattern humans in a social environment follow while participating in activities. When few people are attending to a common issue, there is a higher percentage of participation. On the contrary, many people within a group tend to diffuse responsibility, and therefore, the participation percentage is low and the response time is long. For instance, students would rather take part in educational dialogues online instead of the classroom. Online conversation has higher participation percentage than classroom participation.


From Kitty’s case, witnesses fail to participate or report to the police because of fear of involvement. In cases of similar incidents, bystanders always fear mentioned or suspected of involving in the crime. They thus, keep a distance and fail to aid incaring for the victim. This could be because of lack of defining roles, although some fail to get involved because they conform to social norms.



This section presents how I would react to an emergency presenting examples from varied experiences. This is concerning the bystander effect

Thesis statement: having witnessed an accident where a cycler was injured I realized the bystander effect was a problem because nobody assumed responsibility, volunteered to help or call for help, my presence was not valuable because I also succumbed to the social pressure of the time.

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My reaction to an Emergency Situation

Accident between a Saloon Car and a Motor Cycle

We all encounter situations that need our intervention on a daily basis. However, majority of us tend to ignore such instances and move away. Such an instance happened when I witnessed an accident between a saloon car and a motorbike. Although a number of people witnessed the accident and appeal for help by the motor cycler, there was no volunteer to help. In my mind, I was convinced people in the car were doing something about it. I thought they were calling the ambulance or medical attendant.

Assumption of Responsibility

After hesitating for a while on the accident spot, I went off. It is crucial to note that I was convinced the people around must take action to help the man. I did not take the responsibility to help as my own, but as a responsibility of anyone within the group. One question I could not afford to avoid was why is not anyone else helping? In addition, if no one is helping, why should it be me? It is plain that I wanted to conform to the norm of the moment, which was not to help. Any action, which might have seemed to contravene the norm, was out of my mind.

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Social Pressure  

Later, when I walked away, I have thought of what I could have done to save a life. Lack of understanding of social pressure effects rendered me helpless in that situation. The situation appeared ambiguous to me. It is well known that individuals are less likely to participate in ambiguous activities. Understanding of social pressure effects would have helped in my situation to salvage the cycler’s life.


Taking responsibility as a bystander is clearly difficult because people want to succumb to social pressure not to appear out of place. I realized that bystander effect is a common problem, which I also suffer. Understanding our social roles is important in the society because when we are victims, they will help us too.


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