The Concept of a Passive and Active Bystander Effect

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Groups willingness to help others can be affected in many ways one specifically being the bystander effect. The bystander effect is the tendency for people be unresponsive in high pressure situations due to the presence of other people (Darley & Latane, 1968). There are two main types of bystander effect, active bystander effect and passive bystander effect. An active bystander is someone who witnesses a situation and speaks up or steps in to stop the situation from escalating, a passive bystander is someone who chooses to ignore a situation and do nothing about it (Thornberg, 2007). The concept of a passive bystander can be used to explain multiple studies and real-life situations to and explain why people fail to act in situations.

The bystander effect may be able to explain the inactions of members of the UN in regrades to the Rwandan genocide. In 1994, upwards of 500000 Rwandan Tutsis died as they were massacred by the Hutus. During the period of the massacre various countries were aware however did not intervene until after the genocide. These countries may be described being a passive bystander as they were aware there was a problem but did not do anything about the problem. The reasons for not intervening may not have been malicious as they may not have been aware of what was happening. It was stated multiple governments had not understood the early warning signs of a genocide as there was no systemic policy of how genocides happened at that time. 

This statement suggests that a lack of information and understanding may be a contributor to the bystander effect. This could suggest that the bystander effect in groups effects people’s willingness to help others as they are less likely to intervene when they do not have the necessary knowledge. This may be due to the people showing informational social influence as they do not want to appear less intelligent in their groups as they may believe the actions of other countries were correct so fail to act to maintain their reputation. As this theory can be applied to the actions of governments it would suggests the bystander effect is a suitable theory in explaining the groups effect in shaping people’s willingness to help as it gives the theory ecological validity strengthen its ability to be applied to various other real life group situations.

Also, the US did not supply reinforcements to the Rwandan people in fear of danger to personnel causing the UK government to also not intervene as they believed US approval would be necessary for intervention and without it their proposed suggestions would not be approved (Stanton 1, 2004). This situation may be explained by the concept of groupthink. Groupthink happens when individuals in a group compromise their desires and cares instead of reaching a consensus based on the information. 

This is important as it suggests groups have a large impact on people’s willingness to help as it can be applied to not only individual people but large organisations like government practice. This suggests that groups may encourage people to not make impactful decisions towards other groups who need help as the members may ignore the problems with the groups decision and cause the members to develop a lack of personal accountability. As there are several different ways the bystander effect can take place it suggests there are high levels of validly to the theory as it can be generalised to real world problems. Therefore, the bystander effect is an effective explanation as to how groups shape willingness to help others.

An increase in the number of bystanders may lead to diffusion of responsibility. This is where an individual will assume others around them are responsible for acting or have acted in a high-pressure situation. The likelihood of an individual to take responsibility can be described as having a group size effect because as the number people around increases the less likely someone is to intervene (Diekmann, 1985). There have been multiple studies which show the influence diffusion of responsibility has on people’s willingness to help groups. A meta-analysis conducted by Fischer er al of literature from the 1960’s to 2010 found the presence of a bystander would reduce the chances of a participant intervening in dangerous emergencies. 

They also found the greater the number of people the stronger the diffusion of responsibility became making it less likely for participants to help. As research has been continuous throughout the years it suggests diffusion of responsibility may be a suitable explaining the effects groups have on shaping people’s willingness to help others. However, using a meta-analysis may have its limitations as it may contain publication biases and the research may be publishing information which may not be significant or provide a valid claim.

Similarly, Barron and Yechiam looked at diffusion of responsibility in the workplace, they had mass emails sent out that were personally addressed to participants and general emails sent to the entire group. This study is one of many which suggests groups influence people’s willingness to help as they found responses to the emails were higher when they addressed personally compared to the general as people thought they more responsibility to respond to the personal ones. This is beneficial as the study was conducted anonymously and online so it also suggests regardless if a person knows the individuals of the group, they are in diffusion of responsibility will still take place.

However, the study included 240 anonymous participants, which is limiting as the age, gender and ethnicities of the participants are unknown. This is disadvantageous as these factors may play a role on the effect of diffusion of responsibility but are not considered decreasing the internal validity of the study as well as the generalisability as it may not be able to be used to explain all types of people as the demographics are unidentified. Also, the study has some other issues as it cannot be determined the lack of responses were due to diffusion of reasonability and no other personal habits. For example, Rojo and Ragsdale found 82% of users of forums never contributed but read the dialogue in forums. 

This factor is important as personal habit may have been a factor not taken into consideration in the findings of Barron and Yechiams’s study further decresing its temporal validity. Also, both studies lack temporal validly as they were conducted in 1997 and 2002. As the studies were conducted relatively long ago, they may not be able to explain people’s willingness to help today as groups may have developed and changed since this time. Overall, despite the limitations diffusion of responsibility has a large impact on shaping people’s willingness to help others as there are multiple forms of supportive evidence suggesting it has high reliability in explain individual’s behaviour.

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Pluralistic ignorance is another theory which can explain how groups shape people’s willingness to help others. It happens when the majority of group members privately disagree with a norm but continue to go along with it because they assume other people accept it (Miller & McFarland, 1991). This explanation has been shown in research conducted by Munsch, Weaver, Bosson and O’Connor. They recruited 202 American people to complete an online survey on their opinions on masculinity. 

They found people who have masculine norms are more likely to show pluralistic ignorance. Even though the participants did not find the norms ideal they were persistent in playing their part as they believed the other people’s opinions was stronger than their own. This study supports the idea pluralistic ignorance is a factor that shapes people’s willingness to help others as it suggests in terms of masculinity people are more prone to follow group norms and ideas then their own opinions. 

This study is good as it has high internal validity as the proportion of people who took part are similar to the proportion of people in America which is beneficial as it means this study can be generalised to western society. However, as it was only conducted in America it cannot be used to explain people’s willingness to help in collectivist cultures therefore it lacks external validity. Also, it is difficult for the study to know if there’s a link between pluralistic ignorance and masculinity as they did not test the co-worker’s actual preferences. This is a limitation as it is impossible to know if the opinions the participants stated were correct.

There is further evidence to support pluralistic ignorance shaping peoples willingness to help others as Van Grootel, Van Laar, Meeussen, Schmader and Sczesny found when men were presented with actual norms compared to perceived norms, they altered their own self-descriptions, future behavioural intentions, and broader gender-related social attitudes to fit the social norm. This shows people are likely to adapt their attitudes and behaviours to fit norms and behaviours. Overall diffusion of responsibility has a large impact on shaping people’s willingness to help others as there are multiple forms of supportive evidence suggesting it has high reliability in explain behaviour.

Another theory that may influence people’s willingness to help is parochial altruism. This is when an individual will perform actions that will be beneficial to the in-group members and harmful to the out-group members.  This was demonstrated by Abou-Abdallah, Kashima and Harb. They found individuals not directly involved in conflict would act with the group or would ignore the outgroup when there was conflict. 

They also found the stronger the members associations with the group were the more likely they would act with the group. This suggests that parochial altruism has a large impact on affecting people’s willingness to help as people have close ties to groups so would do what was expected to in order to maintain a member even if that means not helping someone in need. Also, it suggests groups may affect the type of individual the group members can help as they will be more prone to helping the ingroup then outgroup members.

This can be further supported by Böhm, Rusch and Gürerk as they found participants chose to benefit their group members at the cost of a defenceless outgroup member even though they could achieve the same outcome without harming the outgroup member. This theory is important as it suggests when people are associated with a specific group, they will do what they think is necessary to be an asset so if it’s not in the groups benefit to help someone, they be less inclined to help. This may be explained by evolutionary process as refraining from helping the outgroup would had led a person to have increase access to resources and allowed them to have additional reproductive access for the victors. However, these findings were discovered through laboratory studies. 

This may be a limitation to parochial altruism explaining how groups can shape people’s willingness to help as it lacks external validity and low ecvological validy as the setting may have produced unnatural behaviours that do not reflect real life. This means the findings may so may not be able to be used to explain real life groups ability to influence members willingness to help others. As there are multiple studies which show people are prone to do what is in the groups best interest it suggests parochial altruism is a strong component in effecting groups willingness to help others. Also due to the repeated studies the theory has good reliability increasing the credibility of the theory.

Parochial altruism may lead to identity fusion. This is when a member of a group experiences a sense of oneness with the group (Swann et al., 2014). Whitehouse el al conducted a study where they had football fans complete multiple questionnaires including the trolley dilemma scenario in regards to self-sacrifice for the group. They found there was an association between identify fusion and self-sacrificial behaviour for ingroup members. When ingroup members had a shared feeling of loss from a football game individual member were more prone to sacrificing themselves in the trolley dilemma or would respond highly to monetary donations (Whitehouse et al., 2017). 

In contrast to this football fans are also more likely to show hostile and neglectful behaviour towards the outgroup specifically the opposing team if the ingroup lost a match (Fredman, Bastian & Swann, 2017). This study is significant as it suggests people are more prone to help people they identify and share similar interest with but in regard to the outgroup they are less likely to help as they have no identification with them. This suggest that the extent a person identifies with a group will affect their willingness to help another person.

This is further supported as people experience anger towards the outgroup after an in-group is insulted but only to the extent that they identify with that group (Rydell et al., 2008). This further supports identity fusion has a large impact on people’s willingness to help others as the more a member identifies with the group the stronger their reaction to helping the ingroup will be and the likeliness they will help the outgroup will decrease. However, the reperch in support of identify fusion has been collected by self-report methods. This may decrease the internal validity of the study as demand characteristics may have taken place. This may mean identity fusion may not be able to explain people’s willingness to help as so the result cannot be generalised to real life situations.

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