While most of us are sympathetic toward helping someone, the bystander effect can prevent us from stepping in. The bystander effect is when a group of people sees a problem or someone in need, but no one does anything to help.
Why don’t we help? One reason why people choose not to help is because they observe and follow what other people are doing. So if everyone is passing by and not paying attention, we conclude that what’s happening isn’t a big deal. After all, no one else looks concerned.
You’ve probably experienced a similar phenomenon in class. The professor asks if there are any questions, and since everyone else looks like they understand, you decide to not ask your question. When we follow social queues from others it becomes easy to make assumptions that are not true.
So what can you do? Next time you see someone who needs help, pay attention to your reaction. You might be tempted to ignore what’s happening because no one else is doing anything. Instead, stop and ask the person who appears to need help if they’re okay.
Another reason why people don’t help is because of the diffusion of responsibility. This is when you assume another person will step in or someone more qualified will help. And when there are more people present, like at a party, the less likely it is someone else will help.
If you notice something like possible symptoms of alcohol poisoning, a couple fighting, or something else that just doesn’t feel right, don’t wait for someone else to step in – take action immediately.
What can you do? Recruit a specific person and ask for their help. Then give that person a specific job like calling 911 or turning down the music.
Overcoming the bystander effect can be difficult, but the solution is to recognize these instinctive responses and decide to help anyway.
If you want to feel more confident in your ability to respond to someone who needs help, sign up for alcohol safety or bystander intervention training.