The bystander effect refers to when the presence of others hinders an individual from intervening in an emergency situation. Social psychologists Bibb Latané and John Darley popularized the concept following the infamous 1964 Kitty Genovese murder in Kew Gardens, New York. Genovese was stabbed to death outside her apartment while bystanders observing the crime did nothing to assist or call the police.
The bystander effect is attributed to the diffusion of responsibility (onlookers are more likely to intervene if there are few or no other witnesses) and social influence (individuals in a group monitor the behavior of those around them to determine how to act). In Genovese’s case, each onlooker concluded from their neighbors’ inaction that their own help was not needed.
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