The Bystander Effect

  bystander effect

The Bystander Effect

The bystander effect occurs when the presence of others discourages an individual from intervening in an emergency situation.

If you witnessed an emergency happening right before your eyes,  would you help? We’d all like to believe that this is t, psychologists suggest that whether or not you intervene might depend upon the number of other witnesses present.

Understanding the Effect

The term bystander effect refers to the phenomenon in which the greater the number of people present, the less likely people are to help a person in distress.


When an emergency situation occurs, observers are more likely to take action if there are few or no other witnesses. Being part of a large crowd makes it so no single person has to take responsibility for an action (or inaction).

In a series of classic studies, researchers Bibb Latane and John Darley  found that the amount of time it takes the participant to take action and seek help varies depending on how many other observers are in the room. In one experiment, subjects were placed in one of three treatment conditions: alone in a room, with two other participants or with two confederates who pretended to be normal participants.

As the participants sat filling out questionnaires, smoke began to fill the room. When participants were alone, 75% reported the smoke to the experimenters. In contrast, just 38% of participants in a room with two other people reported the smoke. In the final group, the two confederates in the experiment noted the smoke and then ignored it, which resulted in only 10% of the participants reporting the smoke.


Additional experiments by Latane and Rodin (1969) found that while 70 percent would help a woman in distress when they were the only witness, only about 40 percent offered assistance when other people were also present.

Example of the Bystander Effect

The most frequently cited example of the bystander effect in introductory psychology textbooks is the brutal murder of a young woman named Catherine “Kitty” Genovese.


On Friday, March 13, 1964, 28-year-old Genovese was returning home from work. As she approached her apartment entrance, she was attacked and stabbed by a man later identified as Winston Moseley.

Despite Genovese’s repeated calls for help, none of the dozen or so people in the nearby apartment building who heard her cries called the police to report the incident. The attack first began at 3:20 AM, but it was not until 3:50 AM that someone first contacted police.

Initially reported in a 1964 New York Times article, the story sensationalized the case and reported a number of factual inaccuracies. While frequently cited in psychology textbooks, an article in the September 2007 issue of American Psychologist concluded that the story is largely misrepresented mostly due to the inaccuracies repeatedly published in newspaper articles and psychology textbooks.

While Genovese’s case has been subject to numerous misrepresentations and inaccuracies, there have been numerous other cases reported in recent years.


The bystander effect can clearly have a powerful impact on social behavior, but why exactly does it happen? Why don’t we help when we are part of a crowd?

Explanations for the Bystander Effect

There are two major factors that contribute to the bystander effect.

First, the presence of other people creates a diffusion of responsibility. Because there are other observers, individuals do not feel as much pressure to take action, since the responsibility to take action is thought to be shared among all of those present.

The second reason is the need to behave in correct and socially acceptable ways. When other observers fail to react, individuals often take this as a signal that a response is not needed or not appropriate. Other researchers have found that onlookers are less likely to intervene if the situation is ambiguous. In the case of Kitty Genovese, many of the 38 witnesses reported that they believed that they were witnessing a “lover’s quarrel,” and did not realize that the young woman was actually being murdered.

Characteristics of the situation can play a role. During a crisis, things are often chaotic and the situation is not always crystal clear. Onlookers might wonder exactly what is happening. During such chaotic moments, people often look to others in the group to determine what is appropriate. When people look at the crowd and see that no one else is reacting, it sends a signal that perhaps no action is needed.

Can You Prevent the Bystander Effect?

So what can you do to avoid falling into this trap of inaction? Some psychologists suggest that simply being aware of this tendency is perhaps the greatest way to break the cycle. When faced with a situation that requires action, understanding how the bystander effect might be holding you back and consciously taking steps to overcome it can help. However, this does not mean you should place yourself in danger.

But what if you are the person in need of assistance? How can you inspire people to lend a hand? One often-recommended tactic is to single out one person from the crowd. Make eye contact and ask that individual specifically for help. By personalizing and individualizing your request, it becomes much harder for people to turn you down.


Mandy X


Darley, J. M. & Latané, B. (1969). Bystander “apathy.” American Scientist, 57, 244-268.

Latané, B. and Darley, J. M. (1970) The unresponsive bystander: Why doesn’t he help?Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Manning, R., Levine, M. & Collins, A. (2007). The Kitty Genovese murder and the social psychology of helping: The parable of the 38 witnesses. American Psychologist, 2007;62(6): 555-562.

Soloman, L.Z, Solomon, H., & Stone, R. (1978). Helping as a function of number of bystanders and ambiguity of emergency. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 4, 318-321.

Perception vs reality


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Perception vs reality

Think of your perception of reality as your ‘map’. Think of reality as the ‘territory’. Perception vs reality is an important factor in how we live our lives and how successful we are at picking up on what is really going on. Over the years I have listened to many people’s stories, especially all the ways things can go wrong.Our parents teach us what they have learned. Along with this information, comes biases, prejudices and faulty assumptions which leads to our maps not quite fitting the territory. Our perceptions are ultimately distorted and stop fitting reality and this is where many problems come in.

We look for evidence that confirm our beliefs about the world and this, in turn, reinforces our perceptions and distorts what we see. I have seen many clients whose map is so far removed from the territory that they no longer actively engage with the world in a productive way that makes sense. People with severe anxiety and depression often have distorted maps and this causes them to only focus on certain negative aspects of reality in order to make sense of their thoughts and perceptions.

When it comes to perception vs reality, always look for the evidence in reality that supports your thinking/perceptions. This is one way to avoid upsetting and unhelpful thinking from getting the better of us. Cognitive behavioural therapy regularly refers to unhelpful thinking styles that tend to add to our stress. Thoughts such as: black and white (all or nothing) thinking, personalising (blaming ourselves for things that have nothing to do with us), catastrophising, emotional reasoning (I feel upset therefore something MUST be wrong), mind reading (thinking we know what others are thinking) and so on.

We have a lot of flexibility in the thoughts we want to choose to make sense of reality. Make sure you choose these thoughts wisely – ones that are reasonable, based on evidence as much as possible (rather than assumptions) and provide you with positive feelings.

Mandy X

PS. In times of distress, check what you have been telling yourself (your perceptions and thoughts of the reality) and always ask yourself “What can I tell myself that will make me feel better about this situation?” Always look for alternative ways to look at something – they are always there.

How to be your imperfect perfect self


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How to be your imperfect perfect self

We live in a crazy world that is constantly trying to turn us into an obedient, conventional, conforming members of society. It takes a strong person to have the courage to go against the grain but it is often those that don’t conform that end up happiest, even though being true to yourself has it’s challenge. It’s often the harder path to follow but the most rewarding in the long run.

Stop pleasing others

You dilute your essence when you spend too much time trying to please others. Start pleasing yourself a little more. Those that are right for you will be able to handle it. If you try too hard to change into what you think is expected of you, you will end up unhappy and confused. You may even lose your identity – stick close to your natural essential self. Those that are right for you will fit in with you just fine.

Trust yourself more

Seek reassurance from others less. Get into the habit of believing in your own decisions and your own beliefs about yourself. No one else can make you feel inferior without your consent. If someone criticises the way you do things ask yourself if they are ‘qualified’ to comment. Reject the rules and laws others try to put on you, especially if you don’t agree with them. Trust yourself. Trusting in yourself and accepting the consequences of your decisions is what leads to greater confidence in yourself.  Keep at it.

Like yourself

No one is perfect and we are all our own worst critic. Stop being to hard on yourself and learn to like the person you are. Sure, we can all strive to improve but get comfortable with the body you are currently living in. Why would you want to reject and resist what you have? How is that helpful? It isn’t…not in the slightest. Focus on your strengths and all the things you do love about yourself. The more you accept and like yourself, the more others will too. Nothing is more attractive than self confidence.

Identify your strengths

Regularly remind yourself of how far you have come and all the challenges that you have managed to overcome. You are still here, surviving – give yourself a pat on the back! Life is tough and you are still around to tell the tale despite all the failure, rejection and disappointment. You are far more resilient than you realise!

Stop comparing

When you acknowledge your uniqueness and you accept that we are all learning and experiencing life in different stages, you will realise what a waste of energy it is to compare your life circumstances to those of others. When we compare, we only have some of the facts and tend to compare the positives of other people’s lives with all our negative perceptions of our own lives – it very rarely benefits us and can lead us to feel downtrodden. Stop comparing – instead look at your own progress and set yourself new goals. Make sure these goals are the next step in YOUR own journey rather than a step to try keep up with someone else.

Believe in yourself

You are as good as anyone else. Don’t believe anything else. You matter as much as the next person. Believe in yourself, Be assertive and allow yourself to be heard. Get in the habit of expressing yourself – push those boundaries.

Spend time with people who inspire you and bring out the best in you. There are so many ‘social equations’ that exist – there are ‘people’ out there for you – your ‘kind’ of people. They will gravitate to you but only if you show the real you. Get brave, be yourself and celebrate the real you.

Mandy X

Productive rest


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Productive rest

Many of my clients seem to actively resist the idea of taking time out of their busy schedules. They feel guilt when they are not continually on the go. Society conditions us to be busy all the time but this is something that needs to be rejected. There is such a thing as “productive rest” and this means it is a positive thing, not necessarily a means to shirk responsibility.

When you get into the habit of regularly taking time to rest, whether that’s a nap during the day, or you take a day off, you will soon realise the accumulative benefits of allowing your body and mind to relax.

Society doesn’t want you to rest of take time for yourself- Capitalistic society dictates that you be a productive contributing member of society. What you aren’t told is that, actually, the key to being productive and effective in the long run, is to make sure that you are enjoying productive rest periods along the way.

It’s all about balance. Stop the guilt and schedule in time to enjoy your surroundings, re-assess your direction in life and recharge your batteries. Ultimately, you will be MORE productive and efficient than those who never take time out.

Mandy X

How to challenge uncertainty


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How to challenge uncertainty

Knowing how to challenge uncertainty is a real skill considering that we live in a world that is inherently uncertain. Nothing will ever change the fact that life is uncertain, so it pays to find way to accept and manage uncertainty rather than trying to resist it. Resisting uncertainty is futile and will only leave you exhausted.

So, how can we learn to manage uncertainty better? Acceptance is a good start. Find a way to see uncertainty as an integral part of your life – get used to liking the idea of surprises and the unpredictable by managing how you perceive it. I like to try think of life as an adventure. A mad rollercoaster that we are all on, that dips and turns and has us screaming for mercy every now and then. Due to the fact that we cannot be certain about everything in life, ask yourself what the advantages and disadvantages are of requiring certainty. In other words, how has needing certainty been helpful to you? How has needing certainty been unhelpful to you?

Do you tend to predict that something bad will happen just because you are uncertain? This isn’t a reasonable thing to do as it is just as likely that the situation could be neutral or positive.

Often, the things that we predict never happen anyway. Keep perspective and remember that no one can predict the future.  We can have a rough idea but we may never know for sure so be careful that you are not ‘torturing’ yourself unnecessarily with negative thoughts.

Are there some uncertainties in life that you can live with? The longer your list is for this question, the happier you will be in life. Learn to be psychologically flexible and to believe that you will find a way to cope with whatever is thrown your way.

Uncertainty can be a good thing and when you embrace the idea of uncertainty and work at strengthening your belief in your ability to cope, you will find that you are less anxious about the unknown.

Mandy X

The perfect stranger


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The perfect stranger

When we feel dissatisfied with our relationships, it can be tempting to fantasise about what life could be like with someone that was more like us, was more loving, more supportive etc

It’s easy to fall into the trap of the perfect stranger – the idea that there is someone who will fulfil our needs and be more compatible for us than our existing partner. Of course, there is the possibility that there is someone out there that would be better suited to you but when we put too much focus on the idea of perfect stranger, we can stop putting enough effort into making our existing relationships work. If you are good companions, fancy each other and enjoy being together most of the time, that’s a great foundation/base to work with. Don’t always assume that someone else will be better. We all have bad habits and no one is perfect. Give up the idea that someone better is around the corner. It will increase your dissatisfaction and may end up a self fulfilling prophecy. Be happy with what you have if most of the time, you tend to chug along quite happily.

Mandy X

How low self esteem begins


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How low self esteem begins

“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent” – Eleanor Roosevelt

As young children, we are like blank slates, learning rapidly about the world around us by observing and direct experience. How others treat us teaches us about our value and this is how low self esteem begins. Sadly, many children grow up receiving very negative messages from their parents as well as significant others such as extended family members, friends and teachers.

These negative early messages are often false messages and say more about the person who said them than about the innocent child receiving them. Nonetheless, the can end up leaving life long scars that affects individual’s self esteem for a very long time.

Learn to recognise that any negative messages that you received as a child may not have been accurate. Negative statements such as “Don’t be so stupid” or “You never get anything right” or “Why can’t you be more like…(your sister/your brother  etc)…can do a lot of damage but it doesn’t mean that the messages were correct, truthful or accurate.

Sometimes as adults, we need to identify these early messages and rewrite them for ourselves. Thankfully, as w grow older we tend to become more aware of our parent’s failings and their earlier messages to us can lose some of their power. It may be highly likely that you have internalised some of these negative messages and have installed within you as core beliefs. You cannot change the past but you CAN change core beliefs about yourself. Perhaps you AREN’T stupid at all. Perhaps your parent just wasn’t good at managing their own stress and said the wrong things sometimes. Parents make many mistakes too and you don;t have to carry their version of you anymore if you don’t like it. Redefine yourself. Look for your strengths, make a list of necessary. Working on self esteem is a life long job. We all have setbacks that can fill us with doubt and trigger old core beliefs about ourselves.

When you realise that this is happening it makes it easier to put these thoughts in their place and dismiss them without believing them and thinking they are true.

As an adult, you have power to decide who you want to be. Don’t allow old outdated messages to define you.

Mandy :


Strategies for worry


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Strategies for worry

We all worry too much and strategies for worry can be a useful ‘tool’ to help you navigate life a little better. Always remember that thoughts aren’t facts and get into the habit of regularly challenging your thinking – you may be way off the mark and upsetting yourself unnecessarily.

Notice the worrisome thoughts and try to figure out what it is that you are worrying about.

Ask yourself: “Is this worry about a current problem or is it a hypothetical situation? (a ‘what if’ situation that hasn’t happened and may never happen).

Can I do something about this?

If the answer is NO, let the worry go!

Distract yourself, find something else to do.

If the answer is YES, draw up an action plan – what/when/how. Decide whether something can be done right now or later on. If it can be done now – get on and do it! Once you have actioned the worry, learn to ‘mentally shelve’ the issue. Get on with something else until you can again do something about the worry (perhaps after someone else has responded to you, for example).

If something can be done at a later stage, schedule it and then let the worry go. Don’t allow worries to hang around and fester. That’s when we get stuck in a worry spiral and end up thinking about things that often far worse than the reality!

Make sure you deal with worries and look for solutions. Thoughts that just go around and around in your head without any type of active resolution to them will drive you crazy in the end. Learn to manage your thoughts instead of allowing them to manage you.

Mandy X