Explaining the Passive Bystander Effect and Group Polarization

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The following essay will discuss the role of informational and normative influences in explaining two psychological phenomena, specifically the Passive Bystander Effect and Group Polarization. Conformity is a type of majority social influence, involving a change in attitude, beliefs or behaviour to align with group norms. The Dual Process Model of conformity (1955) outlines two explanations of why people conform. The first is to gain knowledge, quite often in ambiguous situations an individual relies on their peers to perceive how to act. 

They conform to social influence because of an innate desire to be right. This is known as informational influence and results in a change of both public and private attitudes. The second explanation is that an individual conforms to feel liked and socially accepted as part of a group, which can be socially rewarding or a means to escape social punishment. This is known as normative social influence and results in a change of public attitudes only. This essay will begin by outlining the passive bystander effect and examining the role of informational and normative influences in explaining this phenomenon. Finally, this essay will discuss group polarization and examine the role of informational and normative influences in explaining this phenomenon.

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The Passive Bystander Effect is a common socio-psychological phenomenon that states that individuals are less likely to help a victim when there are other people present. Contrary to the belief that humans are predisposed to help one another, it is evident in psychological research that this is not always the case. This is illustrated by the tragic case of Kitty Genovese; who was attacked and stabbed 14 times by Winston Mosely on her way home from work in 1964. It was a prolonged attack lasting over forty minutes without any intervention from witnesses. An article in the New York Times suggested that thirty-eight people had witnessed the attack on Kitty, yet no one came to her aid. 

Raising the question of why no one intervened? Psychological research around the Genovese case prompted the development of Latanè and Darley’s Decision Model of Helping (1968). The five-stage cognitive model attempted to investigate the processes involved in an individual’s decision to help another person. Latanè and Darley (1968) devised an experiment to test their hypothesis; the noted “smoke experiment”. The findings of the experiment suggested that individuals are highly influenced by others around them and are less likely to help in an emergency if other people are present. Latanè and Darley identified three different psychological processes that may inhibit helping behaviours.

The first process is the diffusion of responsibility; it occurs when the presence of others during an emergency causes the bystander to transfer responsibility to the others present. Three ideas categorise this social phenomenon; in a group, the moral obligation does not fall to any one individual, its falls to the whole group witnessing the emergency. The blame for not helping is shared among the group and the belief that another bystander will help. Darley and Latanè (1969) conducted an experiment that simulated a medical emergency. The study found that the presence of other people inhibited helping behaviours in an emergency. Bystanders do not need to be physically present for the diffusion of responsibility to occur (Garcia et al, 2002). This process could explain why no one intervened to help Kitty Genovese.

The second process is audience inhibition; it refers to the fear of being judged by others when acting publicly. Audience inhibition is a product of normative social influence; it occurs when a bystander refrains from helping in an emergency because they fear being ridiculed or rejected by the group. Alternatively, an individual may not help because they are afraid of being superseded by someone more superior or in a place of authority. This thought process is a product of normative influence, when people are in group’s they tend to go along with the group while privately rejecting the group majority attitude. A bystander may also be afraid of offering unwanted or inferior assistance in fear of being ridiculed by the group or legal consequences.

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Explaining the Passive Bystander Effect and Group Polarization. (2022, February 23). WritingBros. Retrieved October 2, 2023, from https://writingbros.com/essay-examples/explaining-the-passive-bystander-effect-and-group-polarization/
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