Why People in Groups Don’t Help People in Need

How we become different people in the presence of others.

How we become different people in the presence of others

The ‘bystander effect’ is a phenomenon that social psychologists describe as a situation in which individuals do not offer help to a victim when other people are present. Studies have also shown that the greater the number of bystanders the less likely that one of them will step forward and offer help.

Several theories are put forward in order to explain this effect for instance:

  • Help requests are perceived as ambiguous and therefore not correctly interpreted
  • The bystander group have a bond that dissuades individual action
  • Assumption that action or responsibility has already been taken

A new study conducted by researchers at the University of Torino considered the effects of commitment to help on real helping behaviour rather than simply considering intentions to help. Researchers explained that it has been established that commitment generally has a strong link with behavior. (Abbate et al., 2014)

The researchers described commitment as:

Commitment has been described as the pledging or binding of the individual to behavioral acts

The researchers split the study into two parts. Study 1 primed participants where many people were present in order to test if this would diminish the commitment to help. Study 2 shared the hypothesis that participants would be less likely to help when many people where present but assessed real helping behaviour.

The study was able to conclude that participants who were primed with the construct of being part of a group showed less intention and commitment to help.

Results were in line with previous research that demonstrated this strange effect:

bystanders do not necessarily have to be physically present but that the psychological salience of any number of others can be a sufficient condition to produce bystander-effect-like results

The researchers discussed how this phenomenon may translate to real-life situations and advised replication and additional research may be required.