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The bystander effect Essay

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In the early morning hours of March 13, 1964, twenty-eight year old barmaid Catherine "Kitty" Genovese was murdered and raped on the street in Kew Gardens, New York. The incident did not initially receive much attention until Martin Gansberg's infamous article, "Thirty-Eight Who Saw Murder, Didn't Call the Police", was published in the New York Times two weeks later. In reality, only twelve people witnessed the event yet each did nothing to significantly help Genovese until it was too late. The Genovese murder has become the definitive example of the "bystander effect", the social phenomenon in which individuals are less likely to help someone in distress if there are other people present. The bystander effect occurs wherever there is a situation that is ambiguous, or where a lack of action can be rationalized by a diffusion of responsibility in a large group, or where the presence of others presents a significant risk to the bystander such that he or she is afraid to provide help.

The bystander effect results from people misinterpreting an ambiguous emergency situation as a non-emergency based on their own past experiences or social cues taken from others. When confronted with an ambiguous situations, people initially look to past experiences for interpretation cues. However, most people have a limited experience with emergencies and have a tendency to underestimate the gravity of the situation - a cognitive phenomenon known as the normalcy bias - and thus, under-react. In Gansberg's article, one witness to the Genovese murder states that she "thought it was a lovers' quarrel". This seems like a reasonable assumption as public arguments between lovers are far more commonly observed than rape, especially in a safe nei...


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...t any interventions. Thus, nobody provides help when others are present because they are afraid that doing so would pose significant risk to him or herself.

Kitty Genovese's public murder was a tragic consequence of the bystander effect, the sociological phenomenon in which the mere presence of others makes it less likely for people to help strangers in distress. This bystander apathy results from an ambiguous situation which people misconstrue as a non-emergency based on their own limited experience of emergencies and social cues observed from others. It can also result from a diffusion of responsibility that occurs in large groups as people have a tendency to rationalize their apathetic reaction. And finally, in some cases, the bystander effect occurs when people are afraid to help in front of an audience because it would put themselves at risk.




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The bystander effect Essay - In the early morning hours of March 13, 1964, twenty-eight year old barmaid Catherine "Kitty" Genovese was murdered and raped on the street in Kew Gardens, New York. The incident did not initially receive much attention until Martin Gansberg's infamous article, "Thirty-Eight Who Saw Murder, Didn't Call the Police", was published in the New York Times two weeks later. In reality, only twelve people witnessed the event yet each did nothing to significantly help Genovese until it was too late. The Genovese murder has become the definitive example of the "bystander effect", the social phenomenon in which individuals are less likely to help someone in distress if there are other people present....   [tags: Crime] 1226 words
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