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Factors affecting bystander intervention

Whether a person chooses to help someone in an emergency situation is thought to be based on two primary factors, which are:

  • Personal: those which are specific to an individual, such as their traits or feelings
  • Situational: those which are specific to the situation in which an event takes place.

Personal factors affecting bystander intervention

  • Levels of competence: if a person feels that they are competent enough to get involved, e.g. if they have a particular skill that is needed, this may mean that they are more likely to get involved. For example, if a person was in need of first aid, and the bystander was qualified in this, they would be more likely to intervene and could do so directly, such as by giving CPR. Someone who was not qualified may feel like they could not help directly but might help in some other way, such as by phoning the emergency services
  • Current emotional state: a person who is feeling good, is more likely to get involved in a situation than someone who is not. When a person is in a bad mood, or if they feel sad, their attention tends to be more self-focused, and for this reason not only might they not wish to be involved, they are less likely to notice someone in need in the first place. A good mood means that someone will be more likely to be paying attention to what is going on around them and therefore more able to notice someone in need and go to help them
  • Ability to relate to the person involved: if someone feels as though they can relate to the person in need of assistance, this is thought to influence whether or not they will get involved. For example, someone who has been a victim of physical abuse may intervene more readily when seeing someone else being physically abused because this is relatable to them.

Situational factors affecting bystander intervention

  • Diffusion of responsibility: it is thought that one of the main reasons that people don’t help in an emergency is because they do not feel personally responsible when there are many more people around who could help. The larger a crowd is, the less likely someone is to intervene as they diffuse the responsibility of doing so onto other people. When there are less people, the responsibility cannot be shared out amongst as many people and therefore someone will be more likely to intervene
  • How noticeable the event is: in a large crowd, it is sometimes difficult to notice when something is happening because people will tend to keep their heads down and keep themselves to themselves. On the other hand, if someone is alone and an emergency situation arises, the person will notice straight away and will do something at once to raise the alarm or to help
  • Pluralistic ignorance: this term refers to how, in a situation where many people are involved, individuals will often look to the actions of other people to guide their own behaviour. If no one is helping, the individual is less inclined to help themselves because they do not perceive the situation as serious or as an emergency. In smaller crowds, the behaviour of other people is thought to be much less influential
  • The cost of helping: Sometimes, individuals may not react to situations because they believe that the cost of getting involved is too high and may place them at risk. This may be at physical risk, such as getting hurt whilst intervening in a fight, or at another sort of risk, such as being late for an important appointment by taking the time to stop and help. If, however, a person evaluates a situation and concludes that by not intervening someone else will be at more risk than they will (such as someone having a heart attack), then the person is much more likely to stop and help. Whether or not this decision is altruistic (based purely on the needs of others) is debatable, as someone may only get involved so as not to feel guilty or to avoid being berated by others for not getting involved.
Activity – Explanations of bystander effect
gcse psychology

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