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Discuss psychological research into the behaviour of by standers

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Discuss psychological research into the behaviour of bystanders (24 marks) The first researchers to investigate systematically the circumstances in which bystanders are and are not likely to intervene to help others were Latane & Darley. The tragic case of Kitty Genovese in 1960s New York acted as a catalyst for research studies since the case highlighted concepts such as bystander apathy and the unresponsive bystander. Latane and Darley have shown through research that we are less likely to define a situation as being dangerous if other people are present, a phenomenon they called pluralistic ignorance. Latane and Darley performed a study, the 'smoke-filled room experiment', which demonstrates the power of the bystander effect. It was found that participants reacted most quickly when they were alone. With others present, they often failed to react, even though the steam was so thick it was difficult to see the questionnaire! In a similar experiment, participants sitting in a room waiting heard a voice from an adjoining room cry out and moan for nearly a minute. Participants were significantly slower to respond and offer help when they were with other people than when they were alone. ...read more.


All participants responded and went to the 'technician's assistance' Whilst some witnesses to Kitty Genovese's murder claimed they believed the attack to be a 'lover's tiff', it is doubtful if pluralistic ignorance was operating, since her screams when the attacker returned would have made the situation unambiguous. Darley and Latane called the phenomenon they observed in their experiment diffusion of responsibility, suggesting that, as probably happened in the Kitty Genovese murder, people reason that somebody else should, and probably will, offer assistance. The consequence of no one feeling responsible is that the victim is not helped, and the more people present, the less likely it is that any one of them will give assistance. When participants in Darley & Latane's experiment were interviewed about their behaviour, they were actually not indifferent, callous or apathetic to the student's plight when he had an epileptic seizure and stammered out a request for help. Indeed, Darley and Latane reported that they seemed more emotionally aroused than the participants who reported the emergency, and they typically asked the experimenter who entered the room whether the victim was being taken care of. ...read more.


Piliavin found that those appearing to be ill were more likely to be helped than those appearing to be drunk. This raises intriguing questions as whether a bystander gives help to someone in distress because of the type of person they are or because of the type of person the victim appears to be. Undoubtedly we perceive certain types of people to be more deserving of help than others. A research study has shown that the lack of physical attractiveness can influence whether a bystander helps. Piliavan et al studied the effect of the victim having an ugly facial birthmark. They found that helping dropped from 86% when the victim was not disfigured to 61% when he was. Furthermore, a number of research studies have found that men are more likely than women to help a member of the opposite sex, despite consistent findings that women generally show more empathy than men (Eagly and Crowley). Przybyla proposed that this happens because male helping behaviour is confounded with a desire to be romantic, whereas women are less likely to initiate such interactions with opposite-sex strangers. In one of Piliavin experiments ...read more.

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