Evidence That It Works
The “bystander effect” occurs when being in the presence of other people keeps an individual from helping someone in need. According to numerous studies since the 1960s, this effect is evoked by three factors: 1) diffusion of responsibility or feeling less responsibility for helping when others are nearby, 2) pluralistic ignorance or believing that the help needed is not an emergency because others are not helping, and 3) evaluation apprehension or the fear of being judged by others when helping.
A more recent neurological study found that the bystander effect is even more complex than originally thought. Indeed, findings suggest that other factors play a role, such as a person’s ability to regulate the distressing emotions that occur when seeing someone in need of help, their perspective-taking skills when considering the experiences of both the person suffering and other bystanders, and finally their beliefs about whether they are capable of helping.
Why Does It Matter?
Helping others in need is a major part of life and something that students can learn to do early on. Growing their awareness of why they might not step up to help someone in a group situation—such as watching a student being bullied—may help them to overcome the internal and external barriers that keep them from reaching out.
In addition to practices such as this one, teaching students mindfulness and emotion skills can also cultivate their ability to overcome personal distress when seeing someone suffer, making them more likely to offer service.