The Bystander Effect: The Case Of Kitty Genovese

Kitty Genovese, a 28-year-old woman, was murdered in front of her home on March 13, 1964. A New York Times article claimed that 38 witnessed or heard the crime, but no one responded or aided her to help. This event inspired social psychologists John M. Darley and Bibb Latané to conduct multiple experiments where participants are either alone or grouped and a staged emergency will occur. The researchers would evaluate the length of time that the participants will offer their assistance, or if they would even present themselves to help in the first place. This study is widely known as the Bystander effect, wherein people are less likely to aid a person in need when there are other individuals present in the situation.

Recent investigations have questioned the original version of events and debunked that Kitty Genovese's murder being ignored by 38 bystanders is a myth. The police were called twice and one woman went down and held her after Genovese was stabbed. The reason for this is because the New York Times writer and editor Abe Rosenthal wanted a more dramatic story.

Looking back, the experiment conducted by Darley and Latané would be considered unethical in today's standards. To give the benefit of the doubt, the experiments conducted were relatively harmless at first. However, as the experiments progressed, the psychologists became unethical. The participants are unaware that what they were hearing were pre-recorded voices done by an actor. One of the actors would portray an epileptic student which would seemingly have an epileptic episode. The real participant can only hear the occurrence and cannot see the epileptic participant who is having seizures.

This study conducted by Darley and Latané may risk participants in psychological harm. The researchers may not know that the event that they are portraying to the participants may trigger a traumatic experience that they are unaware of. Researchers should avoid ties that may damage their profession or intentionally exploit their position to harm their participants. The researchers should ask participants for their medical psychological records with consent to ensure the safety of their subjects. The procedures conducted in the experiment should be ethical and reasonable. There are a lot of ways to get the answers that you want to know for your research without crossing the line which will harm your participants. Participants should be valued as they are helping your research and they are human beings. Treat your subjects as normal people, not as lab rats.

There are a few ways in which Darley and Latané could have held the experiments in an ethical way. They should have asked their participants for their psychological records with a given consent. They should have also thought of different ways to administer their research without the riskiness and possibly traumatic simulation that their participants encounter.

John M. Darley and Bibb Latané concluded that as humans, diffusion of responsibility takes place in alarming situations in which an individual is less likely to take responsibility through their actions when other people are present. They should have thought about diffusing the risk of harming their participants to the point where the simulation that they are conducting is ethical. Hopefully, they learned this lesson and looked at their findings in both ways, although the damage is done. As researchers of the present and future, we should learn the lesson of the past to ethically conduct our own research with brave minds and hearts.

16 August 2021
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