Understanding and Overcoming the Bystander Effect: Taking Action When It Matters

Author: Yean Toh | Published date: November 2, 2023 | Category: Mental Wellness, Mind

Awareness Check

Have you ever witnessed but not taken action in... 

  • An emergency situation
  • A bullying incident
  • An act of aggression
  • An act of discrimination

If you responded yes to any of the situations above, you are not alone.

Bystander effect Explained

The bystander effect is a social phenomenon that occurs when individuals do not take action during emergencies, either through choice or ignorance due to the presence of others. In simpler terms, the more people present during an emergency, the less likely any one individual is to help.

Underlying factors

  • Diffusion of responsibility: When in a group, people often assume that someone else will take action, leading to a lack of personal responsibility to help. It's a common train of thought that says, "Someone else can help better than I can, I'm sure someone else will do it."
  • Social influence: Individuals tend to monitor the behavior of those around them to determine how they should act. This can lead to thoughts such as, "What should I do? If they didn't act, I better mind my own business."

Overcoming the bystander effect

  • Recognize it
    Learning to recognize the bystander effect is the first step. Behave as if you are the first or sole witness to the problem. Evaluate the situation and offer your assistance.
  • Be aware of social pressure
    Social and cultural norms that encourage individuals to mind their own business could lead to missed opportunities to intervene when help is truly needed. Take responsibility for your actions, and intervene directly if you see someone in distress. Remind yourself, "It's up to me to do something!" and "It's better to offer than to miss the chance to help."
  • Small steps count
    Taking small steps, such as offering assistance, calling for help, or saying "stop," can have a significant impact. Remember, you do not have to be a hero to make a difference.
  • Enlist the help of others
    In group settings, assigning specific responsibilities to individuals can encourage others to get involved. This shared responsibility can create a sense of duty and prompt others to take action.
  • Educate ourselves and others
    Understanding the bystander effect can help you recognize it and take action when needed. Encourage your friends and family to be aware of it and influence each other to help compassionately. Understanding the impact of collective action can make a difference in our communities.

By acknowledging the bystander effect and actively working to counter its negative implications, we can create a more compassionate and responsible society, one where individuals feel empowered to make a positive difference in the lives of those around them.

Dr Shawn Ee.

BSc. BPsych. DPsych.(Clinical), Clinical Psychologist & Psychoanalytic Psychotherapist, Registered Psychologist (AHPRA; Australia) 



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