The Bystander Effect

Is a social psychological phenomenon that refers to cases in which the individuals do not offer help for a victim. The probability of help is inversely related to the number of bystanders. In other words, the greater the number of bystanders, the less likely it is that any one of them will help. Several variables help to explain why the bystander effect occurs. These variables include: ambiguity, cohesiveness and diffusion of responsibility

Why don’t more bystanders intervene?

They think, “It’s none of my business.”
They fear getting hurt or becoming another victim.
They feel powerless to stop the bully.
They don’t like the victim or believe the victim “deserves” it.
They don’t want to draw attention to themselves.
They fear retribution.
They think that telling adults won’t help or it may make things worse.
They don’t know what to do.

The Case of Kitty Genovese

In order to understand why Kitty Genovese's neighbours did not come to her aid or call the police, social psychologists studied their behaviour and motives. They called their findings the bystander phenomenon. The Kitty Genovese story is not an isolated incident. This scenario of bystanders witnessing but refusing to intervene in emergency situations repeats itself in many neighbourhoods.

Some psychologists explain emergency and non-emergency helping behaviours using a cost/reward model. In this model the decision to get involved is related to a person's perception of the probable rewards as well as costs of involvement. The course of action, then, is directed toward selfbenefit. This model acknowledges that human beings are essentially selfish creatures.
Experiments & Examples of the Bystander Phenomenon


In a series of classic study, researchers Bibb Latane and John Darley found that the amount of time it takes the participant to intervene varies depending on how many other people are in the room. In one experiment, subjects were placed in one of three treatment conditions: alone in a room, with two other participants or with two actors who pretended to be normal participants.

As the participants filled out questionnaires, smoke began to fill the room. When participants were alone, 75% reported the smoke to the experimenters. In contrast, just 38% of participants in a room with two other people reported the smoke. In the final group, the two confederates in the experiment noted the smoke and then ignored it, which resulted in only 10% of the participants reporting the smoke.


Bystander actions towards genders usually deals with violence such as, when a girl is getting harassed by a boy in public, bystanders are more likely to pull the boy away and stick up for the girl. But when we reverse it and the boy is getting harassed, bystanders are more likely to watch the harassing and not step in. When the boy is being harassed and not standing up for himself, he is usually considered weak since he is being controlled by a girl. Men usually are blamed for abuse because of modern gender stereotypes. Women are seen as the weaker sex, whereas men are seen as being stronger and having natural tendencies toward violence. These stereotypes are false. One in 3 abused victims are men.

Definition of Aggression

In psychology, the term aggression refers to a range of behaviors that can result in both physical and psychological harm to oneself, other or objects in the environment.

Forms of Aggression

  • Physical
  • Verbal
  • Mental
  • Emotional

Purposes of Aggression

Aggression can also serve a number of different purposes:
  • To express anger or hostility.
  • To assert dominance.
  • To intimidate or threaten.
  • To achieve a goal.
  • To express possession.
  • A response to fear.
  • A reaction to pain.
  • To compete with others.

Researchers have suggested that individual who engage in affective aggression, defined as aggression that is unplanned and uncontrolled, tend to have lower IQs than people who display predatory aggression. Predatory aggression is defined as aggression that is controlled, planned and goal-oriented.

What causes aggression

Human aggression has been blamed on many things, including broken homes, poverty, racism, inequality, chemical imbalances in the brain, toy guns, TV violence, sexual repression, sexual freedom, overpopulation, alienation, bad genes, and original sin. However, virtually all of these potential causes have one thing in common:
Human needs and desires are endless. Virtually all of us would like to have fancy homes, social status in our community, the ability to eat all we want without getting fat, sex whenever we want it, perpetual health, unconditional love, and the ability to live until we're 200. Most of us will enjoy few of these things.

What causes people and societies to turn to aggression?

There are many reasons why people and society turn to aggression.
Throughout history there have been five main key factors that causes aggression. :

Five key factors:

  • Neurosis
  • Desperation
  • Envy
  • Greed
  • Collectivism.
Neurosis: A relatively mild mental illness, involving symptoms of stress , but not a radical loss of touch with reality. You can compare it with psychosis.
Desperation: Someone that will try everything to get what they desire
Envy: It is the desire to have something that someone else has
Greed: A selfish desire for something. They will collect it and will not share.
Collectivism: It is a social outlook that emphasizes the interdependence of every single individual in their group.

Teen Aggression

Aggressive behavior among teens can take many different types of forms.

-Physical aggression includes such behaviors as pushing, shoving, hitting, slapping, biting, kicking, hair-pulling, stabbing, shooting, and rape.
-Verbal aggression includes threatening and intimidating others and engaging in malicious teasing, taunting, and name-calling.
-Indirect aggression includes such behaviors as gossiping, spreading cruel rumors, and encouraging others to reject or exclude someone.
-Whenever one person intentionally tries to harm another, it is an act of aggression.
-Aggressive behavior is a serious problem among teens.
  • Almost one in five students in grades 6 to 10 say they have bullied others in the past year.
  • More than one in three high school students say they have been in a physical fight in the past year.
  • Between 30 and 40 percent of male teens and 16 to 32 percent of female teens say they have committed a serious violent offense (e.g., aggravated assault, robbery, gang fights, or rape) by the age of 17.
  • Over 1,700 youth under the age of 18 were arrested for homicide in this country in 1999.
From early on, boys are much more likely than girls to engage in physical and verbal aggression against others. In contrast, girls tend to use indirect means of aggression, including withdrawing their friendship, spreading rumors and gossip about another girl, and encouraging others to ignore or reject someone.

Adult Aggression

Aggressive behavior between adults is shown in the same ways as most aggressive teen behavior.
-Accidental aggression is not intentional and can be caused by lack of caring and or thinking. Adults who are married usually experience this type of aggression because they have reached a level of overfamiliarity. Some words or phrases may come across as hurtful but they don't realize it because they don't think before they speak.
-Hostile aggression is intentional and is meant to cause physical or emotional harm to another. Hostile aggression is common for abusive marriages because the enforcer is intentionally causing harm to the victim.
In adults, aggressive behavior can sometimes turn into disorders. It is uncommon, but is a serious problem for adults that cannot contain their aggression. Some of the disorders are: antisocial personality disorder, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, schizophrenia, and substance abuse.

Biological aggression

Some psychologists believe that aggression is an inherited instinct in both humans and animals. Animals are pre-programmed to aggressively defend themselves, their families, and their territory from intruders. People who are frustrated, thwarted, annoyed or threatened also react instinctively with aggressive behavior.
Psychologists view aggression as primarily a learned behavior. Studies indicate that aggressive children watch more media violence, identify more with violent characters and believe that what they see reflects real life more than non-aggressive children.
Cultural perspectives about what it means to be masculine or feminine may also influence a person's perception about aggression.

Gender and Aggression

Statistics Canada confirms that, in Canada, males are much more likely than females to be arrested and convicted of violent acts. According to statistics, males are more likely to both instigate aggression and to be its target. Other research studies suggest that males are more likely to engage in physical forms of aggression (hitting, kicking, use of weapons) while females are more likely to use indirect and psychological forms of aggression, such as public rejection, verbal abuse or spreading rumors about another person. These findings have led some psychologists to suggest that females are not necessarily less aggressive than males, but rather they may react to different stimuli and display different kinds of aggression than males. .

Difference between aggression & violence

The words violence and aggression are used commonly that many think they have the same meaning. However, there are differences between aggression and violence. All aggression is proved by scientists to come from anger, although violence is not always from anger. Aggression is just the behavior, where violence is aggression in action.

Definition of violence

Violence is the use of physical force to injure people or property. Violence may cause physical pain to those who experience it directly, as well as emotional distress to those who either experience or witness it. Individuals, families, schools, workplaces, communities, society, and the environment all are harmed by violence.

What is violence?

Violence is a social and health problem for all who experience and witness it. Violence takes many forms, including:
  • Family violence, often referred to as domestic abuse, child abuse, child maltreatment, spouse abuse, and wife battering
  • Peer group violence, which includes workplace violence, school violence, gang violence, and Bullying
  • Sexual violence, which includes rape, date rape, marital rape, intimate partner abuse, and child sexual abuse
  • Abuse of power, which includes mistreatment of children, students, elders, people with disabilities, and others who are smaller or less powerful than the abuser
  • Community violence, which includes assaults, fights, shootings, homicides, and most forms of peer violence
  • Hate crimes and hate speech, which target victims based on gender, age, race, ethnicity, religious belief, or sexual orientation
  • Media violence, shown on television, in film, and in video games.

Three main types of violence

The different types of violence are: physical, psychological, and sexual. Physical is just your typical visible violence, consists of slapping, biting, burning and kicking, etc. psychological violence is when someone can use blackmail, threats, false accusations. Sexual violence however, is when there are sexual actions happening without consent from both people.This can include; unwanted touching, harassment, and derogatory slurs.

What causes violence?

There are two basic conditions that produce violent tendencies in human beings. One condition is that the person has been hurt. A child who is spanked, hit, beaten, or threatened with violence will have a tendency to become violent himself. Sexual abuse and emotional neglect are also hurts that can lead to violent tendencies. The accumulation of minor hurts (stress) can lead to violent behavior as well. The anxieties, disappointments, and frustrations of childhood can build up and cause a child to hit or bite.
The second basic condition is less well understood. The person has not been allowed to release the emotions resulting from the hurts. He has unresolved and unexpressed feelings about what he has experienced. Only then will he have a tendency to be violent towards others. Being the victim of violence and other distressing experiences breeds violence in the child only when the emotions are blocked and repressed. When this situation occurs, violence toward self or others is almost an inevitable outcome. Violence is a distorted expression of the person's rage or terror in an environment where it is not safe to reveal or release strong feelings.

Researches have found a number of different "risk factors" that increase the likelihood that a child or teen will engage in aggressive behavior. These include:

Community and societal factors

Poverty, joblessness, discrimination, and societal acceptance of aggression all increase the risk of aggressive behavior.

School failure

Early behavior problems often lead to poor school achievement and school failure, which are important risk factors for delinquency and involvement with antisocial peer groups in the teenage years.

Home Environment

Children and teens who come from homes where parents are coercive or manipulative with their children, provide little emotional support, do not monitor their activities, or have little involvement in their lives are at greater risk for engaging in aggressive behavior.