Social psychologist

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Bystander behaviour, an integral part of altruism has been 1 of many enduring questions that social psychologist have investigated. Psychologists have attempted to define BB in terms of people’s willingness to intervene when someone is in trouble or in an emergency. Latane and Darley theorised that the reason for the lack of interventions during the murder of Kitty Genovese was that there was a large number of potential helpers. It was found a larger number of people affect people’s ability to define of a situation as an emergency.

The proposed 3 possible processes that might explain the reluctance of others to ‘get involved’ in situation such as Kitty Genovese: Diffusion of responsibility, pluralistic ignorance and audience inhibition. .. SexC By nAtUrE … sExC By NaME… When other people are present, people assume someone else will deal with the situation. When 1 person is present then that person is 100% responsible. However, if 10 people are present the responsibility is diffused amongst 10, hence the less effort each individual makes.

This has been demonstrated by Latane and Darley’s 1970 ‘smoke experiment’. They had participants filling out questionnaires when smoke poured in though the vents. They found 75% of those w0ho were working on their own reported the ‘smoke’ within 2 minutes, but 15% of those in groups continued working for the full 6 minutes in which they could not see the questionnaires at all! Those in groups expected someone else to report the ‘smoke’ (diffusion of responsibility). Participants looked over to others for guidance as top how to act.

The group norm was therefore to hide alarm and this affected defining the situation as an emergency. This is called pluralistic ignorance. The third reason for helping or not is the bystander’s own fear of looking foolish in public by over reacting in potentially safe situations. Another factor of BB is that of situational ambiguity. Latane and Darley arranged for a subject to talk to a confederate and then to hear them have a seizure. Whether subjects thought that the confederate was on their own or not affected responses.

Participants who were led to believe that the confederate was with someone else were less likely to help. Most participants in this condition could not see the victim and so became unsure how to act. The process of rationalisation occurs at this point according to Piliavin et al, in which participants thought someone else had gone to help. Piliavin’s 1969 Samaritan study suggest that the characteristics of the person in need is an important factor in determining whether help is given or not. We perceive certain types of people to be more deserving of help than others.

In the study, participants were more likely to offer help to the blind confederate (90%) rather then drunk confederate (20%). Race was another factor involved, there was no difference between black/white helpers if someone was blind, but black people tend to help the black drunk confederate and the white people help white drunk. Piliavin et al (1981) proposed that gender and personality are also important factors in BB. Women are seen as helping more when a nurturing response is required whereas men tend to offer physical help.

Men are more likely to help women than other men. Latane and Darley’s cognitive model formulated 5 stages to explain BB at emergencies why people sometimes do and sometimes do not offer help. This includes: whether the bystander notices the situation, interpretation of situation as emergency, whether person takes responsibility, whether they know what to do and the implementation of their decision. It was suggested that the reluctance to help might be because they may not be trained or competent to do so.

Therefore people who have the responsibility of group leadership or are trained to deal wit an emergency are more likely to help. Piliavin et al introduced the theory of the arousal: cost reward model which suggest that a bystander’s motivation for involvement is determined by the mount of arousal they feel in relation to the outcome of weighing up both the costs and benefits of helping. For example, the costs of helping a friend is low whilst the emotional reward is high, the bystander is willing to intervene.

The costs of helping may include, effort, time, loss of resources, risk of harm, etc. All these factors are weighed against the benefits of helping such as, social approval, self esteem, positive emotional response, etc. There is considerable support for the claim that people are aroused by the distress of others and this may differ across cultures. From this research, it is shown that we are more likely to help those we perceive to be similar ourselves, those less able to help themselves (children and elderly people) and those we are physically attracted to.

As most of the studies were lab experiments, there was the problem of experimental validity, did the participants believe the situation is real. The experiment was conducted in an artificial environment, which makes it difficult to generalise to real situation and therefore the result shave low ecological validity. Also there were the limitations of experimenter – participant relationship, demand characteristics and the outcome could have been due to the participants knowing that they were being observed. The Samaritan field experiment, it is not known whether the people involved were debriefing, could the study have cause any distress?

In the smoke experiment, the question of whether the researchers checked the participants’ health before exposing them to the ‘smoke’ is not known. An important and interesting factor is that we do not know who the other bystanders are, there may have been a doctor within the crowd, which may have affected outcome of results. Results due to conformity. It can be seen therefore that research into BB has emphasised the complexity of the motivations and factors involved when deciding to help someone or not. These studies have made a radical contribution to research in that it has clarified causes why some people help and why some do not.

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