Imagine a busy street. Loads of cars, people... And suddenly a woman falls on the floor and sprawls. Will you help her? You would probably say 'yes' but according to research you wouldn't help. How so?

This phenomenon, called "The Bystander Effect", became an object of psychologists' interest particularly after 1964 when a woman was murdered in front of many witnesses none of whom intervened. Kitty Genovese was attacked at night in front of her house. She screamed and struggled for over a half an hour. Later, 38 neighbors admitted to having heard her crying for help. Yet no one called the police and the young woman died.

Was it haphazard? Subsequently performed experiments showed that it wasn't and revealed why. Help in such situations depends on two factors: whether we qualify the situation as an emergency and whether we are alone or there are some other people too.

Some situations may seem ambiguous. Is that person lying on the path drunk or ill? Are those people milling about a car thieves or just harmless individuals? It's easier to do nothing so most people hesitate and observe if others are going to get in the situation. And if everyone hesitates and just observes the other (passive) bystanders, there's no action, no help.

Another factor is diffusion of responsibility. We just think that someone else will definitely help. How many of Kitty's neighbors might have stood calmly out of belief that someone else called the police?

But to be positive at the end: Willingness to help increases rapidly if a person needing help is alone. Further, in a group of people just one active person is enough to set an example and others then join in. And finally – people who have become familiar with the above mentioned facts, thus you, too, are much more likely to help or intervene in the future.

Try how good you are at everyday practical psychology – there's a free online quiz 'Are You a Good Psychologist?' at

Author's Bio: 

As a graduated psychologist I have worked with people for many years. I do counseling, hypnosis and diagnostics and I lecture on psychology. I especially concern myself with the development of personality, stress-coping, neurotic problems and self-confidence.
I am the author of online programs for mental health at