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Middle Ground: Stand By or Step Up?

Middle Ground: Stand By or Step Up?

What does it take to step up and help?

Try this:

  • You see a stranger who needs help. What do you do? What runs through your head as you try to decide?
Bystander Effect

What's going on?

It’s counterintuitive, but the more people are present when there's an emergency, the less likely it is that any one of them is going to help. Social scientists have named this phenomenon the Bystander Effect (Darley and Latané, 1968). There are at least five steps people go through when deciding whether to help in an emergency—and helping only occurs if people go through all five steps. But the decision to take the next step toward helping can be dashed by a number of situational factors or concerns. The good news? Once people understand which factors might interfere with their decision to help, they're actually more likely to help. Is there anything that's holding you back from stepping up?

Further Reading

J. M. Darley and B. Latané (1968). "Bystander Intervention in Emergencies: Diffusion of Responsibility." Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 8(4, Pt.1): 377–383 (abstract)

"Overcoming the Bystander Effect: The Psychology of Heroism." (article)

Keshia Nauran Badalge (2017). "The Bystander Effect and Social Media" (article)



National Science Foundation
This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 1713638. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.