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Bystander Effect

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Helpless.”

One time, as I was walking the streets of my city, two cars came round the corner and collided with each other. As is normally the case, both the drivers got out and started fighting. Initially, the fight was all verbal but soon, they got around to hitting each other. Meanwhile, a few people had gathered around to watch the drama unfold. Most of them had no idea why the fight was taking place; they were just there because there was a fight. I must confess that I wanted to help but did not as I felt that I would get injured in the fight. Soon, one of the fighters had a swollen face and was bleeding profusely. He appealed for help. Then, one or two people from the crowd moved in to stop the fight. As soon as the bystanders saw couple of people coming forward to help, immediately everyone moved in and took both the injured people to the hospital.

I was deeply ashamed of my behavior and once I got home,I decided to find out why this happened with me and also with others who just stood there watching the fight. I read about the ‘Bystander Effect’.Bystander effect is the phenomenon when people do not help the victims in distress when others are present. The tendency to help the victims is inversely proportional to the number of people around.

There are many reasons given by experts as to why this effect is seen these days. One may be sheer apathy-lack of concern for your fellows.  Another can be fear of the police. People think about what will happen if they get involved in the affair; what if they are taken to the police to give a statement; what if they have to testify in court.Hence the result is that they do not take any action but instead, watch the action unfold before their eyes as bystanders. Yet another reason given by the experts is fear for one’s own life. People fear that if they get involved in the fight, they might lose their life in the ensuing scuffle.

However, if one is alone, then one acts almost immediately.Also, I found out that among a group, if one takes the initiative in helping, then immediately all others move in to help. It is as if people are waiting for someone to take the initiative.  

Then I read about what the victims can do in such situations to attract help. One expert gave a very logical answer. He said that the victims should try to make eye contact with a particular person in the crowd and appeal for help. This makes that person think that he is alone as a bystander and is hence more likely to help.

However, it may take quite a while for this ‘Bystander Effect’ to go away.First of all, the mentality of people needs to change.People will talk about the horrendous crimes taking place and how one must act to prevent them, but when these people are confronted with an actual crime, they do nothing. Like one psychologist said, ‘taking a stand and rocking the boat is not part of our psyche.’



I am a researcher by day and an avid reader at night. Interested in short stories, travelling and classical music.

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