Diffusion of Responsibility

Last year, I went to the metro for my job application and interview in a banking company. It was a Saturday morning and I was feeling good that time because it was my birthday. As I entered the crowded train station going to Makati City, I saw a bunch of people standing in front of a man who is suffering from an epileptic seizure.

Epileptic Seizure picture via iknow2.net

Upon noticing the crowd, I was curious why is it that no one is helping the man even though he’s already laying unconscious on the ground. And upon the very quick reflection, I recalled about the idea of “diffusion of responsibility” and the “bystander effect”.

As defined by Wikipedia:

Diffusion of responsibility is a social phenomenon which tends to occur in groups of people above a certain critical size when responsibility is not explicitly assigned;

and Bystander effect is a social psychological phenomenon that refers to cases where individuals do not offer any means of help in an emergency situation to the victim when other people are present. The probability of help has in the past been thought to be 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. The mere presence of other bystanders greatly decreases intervention. This happens because as the number of bystanders increases, any given bystander is less likely to notice the incident, less likely to interpret the incident as a problem, and less likely to assume responsibility for taking action.

The crowd are just waiting for someone to take responsibility and act. Knowing about this phenomena, I eventually called the attention of the guard and told him that a man urgently needs to be attended by medics. And now, I passed the responsibility to the security guard and he quickly grabbed his walkie-talkie to inform the other guards and bring the stretcher.

To quote again the definition of bystander effect by Wikipedia, it says that “the greater the number of bystanders, the less likely it is that any one of them will help.” I think this explains why no one wants to assume the responsibility in offering help and taking action. I think it would be a different story if only one bystander is present there. The response might be faster. Maybe, each one of them might be waiting for someone to initiate the help. And luckily, I quickly responded and called the guard.

How about you, have you heard or encountered this weird phenomena when people are just looking at a man who needs help, and no one is responding despite of the urgency of the situation?

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