Bystander Decision Making in Dangerous Emergencies

29 Mar 2018

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The unresponsive bystander: Are bystanders more responsive in dangerous emergencies?

By: Peter Fischer, Tobias Grietemeyer, Fabian Pollozek and Dieter Frey

  • Sana Ibrahim


As we have studied bystander effect has a control on our behaviors in situations requiring for us to reach out and help. We have issues noticing whether the situation requires help, or we may even interpret how to react just simply based on the rest of the crowd and also we may assume why I should react when there are others who are responsible as the way you yourself are. However, bystander effect is less in dangerous situations which has been proved in many studies just like the one I am going to base my analysis. (Myers, 2010).

H0: “Whether different degrees of emergency-related danger differently affect helping responses of bystanders, who are either alone or in the company of another passive bystander” (Fischer et al., 2005).

As the experiment itself says it is the first time in which this effect has been studied in terms of degrees of danger we can’t simply confirm the idea that the hypothesis is true although it is proven by the experiment. We need more than one experiment to support the view different degrees can have a huge impact on the lessening of the bystander effect.

Moreover, the experiment itself has its own limitations. For instance, it has ethical values to be taken into consideration. While conducting scientific experiments it is vitally important to have absolutely no deception about the experiment to its participants. However, in order to understand human behavior in social settings the experimenters are forced to hide the real purpose. (Myers, 2010).

When explained how the experiment was conducted they have based the “high danger” and “low danger” simply based on the man’s stature which in my view is not a real representation of danger (Fischer et al., 2005, p.04). This is because the appearance or how built a person can actually deceive the eyes when it comes to hurting someone. Even the person we might consider weak and vulnerable may be the violent or aggressive one. So in this case based on the stature I believe it is a way of displaying a kind of prejudice towards the observer and a stereotypical behavior by the experimenter’s side. Not only men can be aggressive in portraying so does the women. Therefore, I believe the experiment is one-sided based as it portrayed men as the bad person while women as the weak which is very typical prejudice. If the experiment was done on roles reversed we could easily understand gendered thinking regarding the helping behavior in dangerous situations and it would be possible to generalize to both genders rather than one dominant man being generalized to entire population.

The experiment was conducted based on total 86 participants, 54 females and 32 males of a median age of 23.70 (Fischer et al., 2005, p.04), which is a good sample representative of a population in scientifically conducted experiments. However, the female sample size is a lot more than male which might give the experimenters the desired outcome of the experiment as in social psychology men are more involved in dangerous situations than in women(Myers,2010). If the sample size for both men and women would have been equal it would be less subjected to critics as it is a randomly assigned to groups. Even though, they are randomly assigned the experimental procedure failed to explain how they have selected the 86 participants whether it is a random sample, opportunity sample, volunteered, it is from the same city, same cultural background, or class which are confounding variables that might cause a change in the results of the experiment. For example if all were from a well-educated background they might try to guess the purpose of the experiment and try to act in a way that the experimenter desires them to which can affect the accuracy of the results. If these confounding variables were controlled to some extent as it is a laboratory experiment would have given more accurate results than simply measuring two variables. The experiment also includes paying 5 Euro to each participant (Fischer et al., 2005, p.04), which is an external reward for them to motivate to be part of the procedure. If it was a volunteers taking part in the experiment for a good purpose then the results will be more genuine than working for a reward.

The experimental materials and procedure are carefully explained and shown to the participants to make it believable for them of the true nature of the experiments and also the first questionnaire used which wasn’t assessed was a good way of hiding the true nature of experiment before exposing them to the real variable the experimenter measured. This was a very indirect way of making the participants to get into the experiment.

The experimenter treated each and every participant equally, nice and polite way however we are unable to know the experimenters non-verbal cues which might enable the participants to behave in some way. So if the experimenter was unaware of the research hypothesis this unknown bias can be prevented. Furthermore, the confederate sitting with the experimental member might also some non-verbal cues which might allow the participant to react in a certain way.

In the manipulation of the bystander(Fischer et al., 2005, p,06), the participants felt bad and sad after watching the 3rd video( which the participant thought was real) and when approached to the confederate depending on her state of indifferent made the participant to ignore and follow the social norm to be the good person. Even if the participant wants to go and save the women getting harmed due to the confederates’ response they try to act and behave in the desirable way was quite impressive to hold the other person from reacting thus, understanding how strong others influence can become in situations like these. (Fischer et al., 2005, p.06)

Although the experimenter tried to understand the bystander effect in this experiment I feel like it is not very supportive provided it was just one confederate as the bystander. This is because in real life situations I believe it is a rare chance that there will be few others in an emergency situation thus, the results cannot be generalized into situations which involves many more bystanders. For example, Kitty Genovese’s murder is an excellent real life situation where 38 witnesses were present yet failed to act (Myers, 2010).

The experiment further included a “suspicion check” which enabled the experimenter to assess the right values rather than biased participant’s answers. Elimination of 2 participants was due to their lack of trust which, both believe the conversations they were watching were not real. (Fischer et al., 2005, p.07). This adds more validity to the experimental procedure to ensure an appropriate and accurate result.

The results prove that 37% of the people tried to help the victim irrespective of the age or gender of the participant or the confederate. As I mentioned before if they have taken into consideration of other confounding variables would give more appropriate and valid results. The experiment was statistically analyzed using ANOVA and the results showed significant values but close in the situations they tested the hypothesis. Furthermore, they also used LOGIT indicates that the experimenter was mindful about the accuracy of the experiment. (Fischer et al., 2005, p.07). Therefore, I believe that the statistical significance of the experiment was clearly maintained using both data analyzing methods.

This experiment therefore proves that in low potential situations the presence of a bystander has a greater inhibition than when the participant is alone. Also when the participant is alone they help others more than around someone else. Moreover, it proves that in more dangerous situations as illustrated in the experimental procedure, presence or absence of the bystander had no influence in a dangerous situation. (Fischer et al., 2005).

The experiment at the end discusses 3 limitations which they believe could be improved in future studies which I also believe could have played a role in the generated results. Firstly, they were uncertain whether the participants actually took the emergency situation as real. Secondly, they were also unsure whether to distinguish the danger was posed to the victim or the bystander or for both. Lastly, current study only measured the reaction time and the responses and therefore in future the data based on behavior could be of help to improve the experimenters’ hypothesis. (Fischer et al., 2005, p.11)

In future to improve further I would suggest doing a correlational study and also determining if there is any other 3rd variable which might cause the participants to react in a particular way in an experiment. Furthermore, I would recommend controlling more confounding variables as the experiment was conducted in a laboratory setting not in a natural setting to increase the internal validity. It would be more accurate if we could conduct the experiment in a natural setting as this would give a more accurate and reliable results. This is because conducting the experiment in natural setting would enable us to increase the external validity thus, enabling us to generalize into a larger population. More importantly, in a natural setting the observer effect will be minimized than in a laboratory setting although they are informed they are not being watched. In a laboratory even though they are informed as not being watched some participants might suspect whether it is true thus, it might prevent them from reacting in certain situations and are forced to display certain behaviors to respect the experiment. Also random sampling can be an added advantage to start with and continue till the end to get more valid results. These suggestions could improve the experiments conducted in future and enable to get a more accurate and a reliable scientific discovery of social behavior.


Fischer, P., Greitemeyer, T., Pollozek, F. and Frey, D. (2006), The unresponsive bystander: are bystanders more responsive in dangerous emergencies?. Eur. J. Soc. Psychol., 36:267–278. doi:10.1002/ejsp.297

Retrieved from:

Myers, D. G. (2010). Social Psychology (11th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill Companies Inc.

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