frightened and shocked young woman without make-up


Have you ever asked yourself that question? Have you ever asked that question when you pass by an car accident or a person lying on the sidewalk?

Many people have asked themselves the same question and their answer was NO. This is called the Bystander Effect.

Studies have shown there are many reasons bystanders will not help people in need. They wonder “Is it a really an emergency?”, “How serious is it?” or “Is someone else helping?” These are common questions that bystanders ask themselves when deciding whether they are going to step in and help. Unfortunately, this also leads to bystander apathy.

Melissa Burkley, Ph.D. writes an article where she describes a scenario so we may understand how we generally react during an emergency and will greatly influence our decision whether to help. Sometimes we are so into our thoughts, texting or talking on our phones we fail to recognize that there is anything out of the ordinary going on.

When we do notice somethings “not right”, we then try to determine the severity of the situation. We do this by looking at the person in need and then we start watching others in the area to see how they are reacting. If no one else thinks it’s an emergency then it’s probably not, right?

Then Dr. Burkley discusses how a crowd of bystanders will share the responsibility to help collectively. Yes, believe it or not these people watching an emergency, with no vocal interaction will only take their percentage of the responsibility of helping. In contrast if there is only one bystander that witnesses the emergency they will take 100 percent of the responsibility and do what they can to help.

This phenomenon has been studied for over 50 years. Unfortunately, none of the results have changed but a better understanding of why this happens has been formulated. Knowing why bystanders do nothing even though they are good and caring people is half of the battle.

The other half of the equation is training a person to act despite their natural instinct of inaction. So Dr. Burkley offers some sound suggestions. First is be aware of your surroundings and take notice of others. Don’t look to others on the street to decide if they believe an emergency is happening, check for yourself. Don’t hesitate or even doubt your ability to recognize when there is something out of the ordinary going on.

When you do see that the situation is a real emergency, get others to help. Awe yes that’s the twist, getting others that haven’t read this article to help you. That’s easier than you believe. During first aid training classes we always teach people to point to someone or identify them by clothing “you in the blue hoodie” so you grab their undivided attention. When you’re sure they are listening to you give them the instructions such as “come here and help me” or “call 911 and tell them…”.

I also believe many people handle emergencies very differently. Logic and though processes often slow our reactions and actions down. Many moons ago I found that bystanders, ordinary people like you and I are willing to help someone when you tell them what you need.

Here is an article of a tragedy when you don’t help.

Here a link to several interesting articles by Psychology Today.

Stay safe my friends.

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