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Summary and Critique of Book “Bystander Intervention in Emergencies”

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    REFERENCE: Darley, J. M., & Latane’, B. (1968). Bystander intervention in emergencies: Diffusion of responsibility in R. Hock (Ed.), Forty Studies That Changed Psychology (295-303). Upper Saddle, N. J.: Prentice Hall.

    SUMMARY: Society dictates that we take action to help others in emergency situations, but often, we do not. In the famous case of Genovese, where 38 bystanders watched a woman get brutally murdered, only one person called the police. Darley and Latane analyzed the bystanders’ reactions. They believed that the reason no one took steps to help Kitty Genovese was a phenomena they called “diffusion of responsibility.” As the number of bystanders in an emergency increases, the greater the belief that “someone else will help.” With 3 different groups of subjects, Darley and Latane measured the percentage of subjects in each condition who helped the alleged troubled student. They also measured the amount of time it took them to respond. After four minutes, the experiment was terminated. Their findings supported their hypothesis as the amount of delay in helping was greater when more by-standers were present. They also considered the role of social influence in the study. What was it about the presence of others that was so influential? Beyond their specific findings, Darley and Latane’s ground-breaking research on helping behavior and diffusion of responsibility, continues to influence many studies on very topical issues.

    CRITIQUE: Darley and Latane contributed greatly to explaining a perplexing human behavior. Hopefully, as more people learn about the bystander effect, they will become aware of the need to act in any emergency situation, even if others are present. Research has demonstrated that when people have learned about the bystander effect, their participation level is higher in emergencies. Always act as if you are the only person there. This study is referenced in our book in chapter 9, page 299 where it discusses “social loafing” and Latane’s contribution to a lack of production in the work place when people are in groups.


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