Sample Psychology Essays on Bystander Effect

Bystander Effect

Psychology is a wide field that focuses on the scientific study of mind and behavior. As a multifaceted discipline, part of psychology sub-field is social psychology. Hogg and Vaughan (2010) in the book Essentials of Social Psychology define social psychology as a branch of psychology that studies human interactions. In their definition, they continue to explain that social psychology, in its study of human interactions, delves into the indicators, sources, consequences, and the psychological mechanisms involved in the interactions (Hogg & Vaughan, 2010).

One of the phenomena of interest in social psychology is the bystander effect. Hortensius and Gelder (2018) define the bystander effect as the “reduction in helping behavior in the presence of other people.” Essentially, the effect points to people being reluctant in helping others in need when in groups or when aware of the presence of other people at the scene. The hesitant behavior is interestingly different from an individual propensity towards offering help when alone.

Hortensius and Gelder (2018) posit that John M. Darley and Bibb Latene were the first to look into the phenomenon in research, in essence coining its given name—bystander effect. In their research, John M. Darley and Bibb Latene discovered that sole bystanders helped in emergencies, while only 62% intervened when in groups of five (Hortensius & Gelder, 2018). The study additionally indicated that the percentage of bystanders who helped reduced with an increase in the number of people present at the scene.

The best real-life example of the bystander effect is perhaps the Holocaust that had millions of Jews murdered by Nazi soldiers. Later confirmation by Nazi soldiers that they were simply “following orders,” they also claimed that it was not their responsibility to report to authorities. Further, some of the Nazi soldiers pointed out that Germany was the largest authority in Continental Europe at the time, making it suicidal for them to report the matter to the rest of the world. Police reports further inform that on a Saturday night in 2009, about 20 people (mostly adults) watched as a group of people gang-raped and beat a 15-year-old at a high school homecoming dance (Chen, 2009). Police reports on the incident indicate that not only did people not report to law enforcement authorities but others stood by recording the incident on their cellphones, even as others joint in the girl’s assault.

Hortensius and Gelder (2018) attest to three factors that facilitate bystander effect: diffusion of responsibility, evaluation apprehension, and pluralistic ignorance. Their views are in acquiesce with other experts in the field, who agree that the three factors cover the most important aspects of attitudes and beliefs, in relation to assistance.

Bystander apathy continues as a phenomenon in society today. Recently (2018) the New York Police Department’s ethics team has been investigating two of their officers who had witnessed a boy, 15, bleed to death and did nothing. The boy, who had been cut by machetes by a group suspected to be members of Trinitarios gang, bled to death near St Barnabas Hospital. Video footage from other bystanders showed the police doing nothing to help the situation, while a few bystanders rushed to help the boy who bled to death.

The bystander effect is a phenomenon of blame shifting in instances of emergency. From the experiences, it is easy to see how people can shift blame or expect others to act to help third parties in times of emergencies. While wrong, it is only understandable that individuals would expect others to help in a group situation that requires an emergency. It is, however, important for people to spring into action and help, without necessarily expecting others to act.


Chen, S. (2009). Gang rape raises questions about bystanders’ role. CNN. Retrieved from

Hogg, M., A. & Vaughan, G., A. (2010). Essentials of Social Psychology. Essex: Pearson Education

Hortensius, R. & Gelder, B. (2018). From Empathy to Apathy: The Bystander Effect Revisited. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 27(4). Retrieved from