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Reflection On A Personal Experience Of The Bystander Effect

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A significant personal experience that resonates with me through the lens of a social psychology construct is one of common occurrence for all people. During spring break, I went back to my hometown. One Saturday morning, my sister and I drove to our local grocery store to shop for our mom. As we walked toward the entrance, we spot a homeless man posted outside the door, asking for money. Immediately, we walked tight-lipped and uncomfortable past the man, trying to avoid eye contact while doing so. As did the dozens of other people engaging in daily errands at the store. The entire scene seemed to be completely ignored by the masses of people. This alarming phenomenon can be fully explained by a social psychology theory called the bystander effect. The subfield of social psychology consists of an individual’s feelings and behaviors that are analyzed through their interactions with others. A concept within this discipline that deals with helping others is called the bystander effect. The bystander effect is about how an individual is unlikely to take action to assist someone in anguish in the presence of large groups. When there are fewer people there or someone is alone, they are more likely to help the person in need. However, when there is a large crowd of people, something called the diffusion of responsibility occurs. This circumstance describes how there are several people nearby the scene, so onlookers are not pressured to lend a helping hand to someone who is struggling. This feeling of responsibility is distributed among all the people present at the moment. When people do help, they do so under three basic justifications. These reasons are that the helper is a woman, the helper is similar to the person in need somehow, or it takes place in a small town or a rural community.

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Moreover, the strongest indication that a person will help someone in a situation like this is if they are in a good mood to do so. My chosen example fits the definition of the bystander effect. My experience is a familiar one to many, but many also do not understand what specifically explains it. When I confront a homeless person alone, I feel obliged to help them. I am the sole eyewitness of the scenario and I end up giving the man or woman money in an act of altruism. In contrast to this incident, when I encountered the homeless person at the grocery store with my sister, it was in an area with a dense population. I have noticed that I unconsciously did not help them out. I presumed that one of the multiple people entering and exiting the store would give the homeless person money, food, or any other type of support. Therefore, this example fully encompasses the definition of the bystander effect. To reiterate, most people tend to not be compelled to help at all in a situation like this. We feel less obliged to assist someone who is suffering when there are several people around who can also help. The individual assumes that other people will help out or that they have already done so. This describes the diffusion of responsibility, in which liability is spread out equally among everyone who is present.

Overall, my experience with this homeless man fits the descriptions of both the bystander effect and the diffusion of responsibility. My personal thoughts on this situation are that I wished I could have helped. I was never shocked over my behavior, mainly because it was something that was trivial and nameless to me. I was never fully aware of why I did not assist him around a big crowd, but now I know. Ignoring the homeless man was something normal to me; I conformed to this intrinsic societal pattern. However, now that I have learned about the bystander effect, I will definitely act differently. It has altered my thoughts of encountering the homeless, overlooking an accident, and other similar scenarios. Now that I am self-aware, I will be more compelled to put myself in their shoes, and truly feel empathy for them — even in the presence of others.

01 February 2021

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