The Power of Persuasion and Helping Behavior

In social psychology, pluralistic ignorance is a situation in which a majority of group members privately reject a norm, but incorrectly assume that most others accept it, and therefore go along with it.[1] This is also described as “no one believes, but everyone thinks that everyone believes.” In short, pluralistic ignorance is a bias about a social group, held by a social group.[2][3]

Pluralistic ignorance may help to explain the bystander effect.[4] If no-one acts, onlookers may believe others believe action is incorrect, and may therefore themselves refrain from acting.

The bystander effect, or bystander apathy, is a social psychological phenomenon that refers to cases in which individuals do not offer any means of help to a victim when other people are present. The probability of help is inversely related to the number of bystanders. In other words, the greater the number of bystanders, the less likely it is that any one of them will help. Several variables help to explain why the bystander effect occurs. These variables include: ambiguity, cohesiveness and diffusion of responsibility.

The bystander effect was first demonstrated in the laboratory by John Darley and Bibb Latané in 1968 after they became interested in the topic following the murder of Kitty Genovese in 1964.[1] These researchers launched a series of experiments that resulted in one of the strongest and most replicable effects in social psychology. In a typical experiment, the participant is either alone or among a group of other participants or confederates. An emergency situation is staged and researchers measure how long it takes the participants to intervene, if they intervene. These experiments have found that the presence of others inhibits helping, often by a large margin.[2] For example, Bibb Latané and Judith Rodin (1969) staged an experiment around a woman in distress. 70 percent of the people alone called out or went to help the woman after they believed she had fallen and was hurt, but when there were other people in the room only 40 percent offered help.[3]

Bystander Intervention in Emergencies: Diffusion of Responsibility


Group cohesiveness is another variable that can affect the helping behaviour of a bystander. As defined by Rutkowski et al., cohesiveness refers to an established relationship (friends, acquaintances) between two or more people.[13] Experiments have been done to test the performance of bystanders when they are in groups with people they have been acquainted with. According to Rutkowski et al., the social responsibility norm affects helping behavior. The norm of social responsibility states that “people should help others who are in need of help and who are dependent on them for it”. As suggested by the research, the more cohesive a group, the more likely the group will act in accordance to the social responsibility norm. To test this hypothesis, researchers used undergraduate students and divided them into four groups: a low cohesive group with two people, a low cohesive group with four people, a high cohesive group with two people and a high cohesive group with four people. Students in the high cohesive group were then acquainted with each other by introducing themselves and discussing what they liked/disliked about school and other similar topics. The point of the experiment was to determine whether or not high cohesive groups were more willing to help a hurt “victim” than the low cohesive groups. The four member high cohesive groups were the quickest and most likely groups to respond to the victim who they believed to be hurt. The four member low cohesive groups were the slowest and least likely to respond to the victim.

Altruism research suggests that helping behaviour is more likely when there are similarities between the helper and the person being helped. Recent research has considered the role of similarity, and more specifically, shared group membership, in encouraging bystander intervention. In one experiment (2005), researchers found that bystanders were more likely to help an injured person if that person was wearing a football jersey of a team the bystander liked as opposed to a team the bystander did not like. However, when their shared identity as football fans was made salient, supporters of both teams were likely to be helped, significantly more so than a person wearing a plain shirt.[14]

The findings of Mark Levine and Simon Crowther (2008) illustrated that increasing group size inhibited intervention in a street violence scenario when bystanders were strangers but encouraged intervention when bystanders were friends. They also found that when gender identity is salient group size encouraged intervention when bystanders and victim shared social category membership. In addition, group size interacted with context-specific norms that both inhibit and encourage helping. The bystander effect is not a generic consequence of increasing group size. When bystanders share group-level psychological relationships, group size can encourage as well as inhibit helping.[15]

These findings can be explained in terms of self-categorization and empathy. From the perspective of self-categorization theory, a person’s own social identity, well-being is tied to their group membership so that when a group based identity is salient, the suffering of one group member can be considered to directly affect the group. Because of this shared identity, referred to as self-other merging, bystanders are able to empathize, which has been found to predict helping behaviour. For example, in a study relating to helping after eviction both social identification and empathy were found to predict helping. However, when social identification was controlled for, empathy no longer predicted helping behaviour.[16]

Cultural differences

In discussing the case of Wang Yue and a later incident in China in which CCTV footage from a Shanghai subway showed passengers fleeing from a foreigner who fainted, UCLAanthropologist Yunxiang Yan asserted that the reactions can be explained by deeply seated historical cultural differences in Chinese agrarian society, in which there was a stark contrast between how individuals associated with ingroup and outgroup members, saying “How to treat strangers nicely is one of the biggest challenges in contemporary Chinese society…The prevailing ethical system in traditional China is based on close-knit community ties, kinship ties.” He continued, “A person might treat other people in the person’s social group very, very nicely…But turn around, when facing to a stranger, and (a person might) tend to be very suspicious. And whenever possible, might take advantage of that stranger.”[17]

Wang Yue (Chinese: ; pinyin: Wáng Yuè), also known as “Little Yue Yue” (Chinese: 小悅悅), was a two-year-old Chinese girl who was run over by two vehicles on the afternoon of 13 October 2011 in a narrow road in Foshan, Guangdong. As she lay bleeding on the road for more than seven minutes, at least 18 passers-by skirted around her body, ignoring her. She was eventually helped by a female rubbish scavenger and sent to a hospital for treatment, but succumbed to her injuries and died eight days later. The closed-circuit television recording of the incident was uploaded onto the Internet, and quickly stirred widespread reaction in China and overseas. Many commentators saw this as indicative of a growing apathy in contemporary Chinese society.[1]



Helping is influenced by economic environment within the culture. In general, frequency of helping behavior is inversely related to the country economic status.

The major explanation for people failing to stop and help a victim is how obsessed with haste they are. People who were in a hurry did not even notice the victim, although, once they arrived at their destination and had time to think about the consequences, they felt some guilt and anxiousness.

A meta-analysis (2011) of the bystander effect[9] reported that “The bystander effect was attenuated when situations were perceived as dangerous (compared with non-dangerous), perpetrators were present (compared with non-present), and the costs of intervention were physical (compared with non-physical). This pattern of findings is consistent with the arousal-cost-reward model, which proposes that dangerous emergencies are recognized faster and more clearly as real emergencies, thereby inducing higher levels of arousal and hence more helping.” They also “identified situations where bystanders provide welcome physical support for the potentially intervening individual and thus reduce the bystander effect, such as when the bystanders were exclusively male, when they were naive rather than passive confederates or only virtually present persons, and when the bystanders were not strangers.”

An alternative explanation has been proposed by Stanley Milgram, who hypothesized that the bystanders′ callous behavior was caused by the strategies they had adopted in daily life to cope with information overload. This idea has been supported to varying degrees by empirical research.[10]

Read more:–25-Why_Did_Kitty_Genovese_Die.aspx

About arnulfo

veterano del ciberespacio
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