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Psychology Professor Explains The Bystander Effect

By Dan Wing

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- It's a question many people have asked since seeing video of a Park Ranger being attacked in Love Park over the weekend - why didn't anyone help? KYW's Dan Wing spoke with a Villanova psychology professor, who believes it was likely the result of what's known as the "bystander effect."

You would think that the more people that see someone in need of help, the more likely it is that someone from that group would intervene. But as it turns out, the bystander effect shows that's not usually the case.

"When there's lots of people around witnessing an event, an emergency, it actually becomes less likely someone will help than if there were only a few people there."

Associate Professor Patrick Markey says there are three reasons it happens. One is audience inhibition, which is pretty much a fear that you will somehow be embarrassed if you try to get involved. Another reason is social influence, or the fact that no one else is helping. But Professor Markey says the biggest reason is diffusion of responsibility.

"This is the idea that when more people are around, we kind of feel like 'well, it's not my job to help. There's all these other people. There's 12 other people I see, why should I help?' And the problem is this is going on in everyone else's head."

Markey says the first step to breaking that cycle is being familiar with the bystander effect, and realize that no one else will likely intervene, so it may be up to you. But of course, you should never put yourself in danger.

And what if you find yourself in need of help?

"One thing you can do is try to single out one individual in the crowd, and look at that one person, and ask him or her for help specifically."

Professor Markey says this makes it harder for that person to pass the responsibility on to someone else.

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