Ringing the cops – the real bystander effect.

Last night, about 3am, I heard screaming.  It was prolonged screaming from a woman I could hear over the noisy wind.  I dd what you have to do in a situation like that, I rang 111 and told the cops.  After taking my details I was told, ” we have a few calls coming in about her”.  Even though I still worry about what happened – this neighbourhood has had some nasty things happen over the years I’ve lived here, I’m pleased that a number of people heard her, and did the right thing.

In traditional psychological research people are found to ignore each other’s distress; the bystander effect so well taught in every psyc101 class.  As that article points out, the truth of that specific example is not that of a woman screaming ins distress, heard and ignored by 10s of people that was initially reported.  Of course, what happened to Kitty Genovese was a terrible thing, but it wasn’t multiplied by an awful uncaring populace around her that let it happen.

On The Media: Transcript of “The Witnesses That Didn’t” (March 27, 2009).

The myth of the bystander effect is a good parable – something to use to encourage people to lift the phone and report, or intervene somehow in bad things even when they are happening to strangers.  A few days ago a lecturer brough it up in class, and I didn’t contradict her on details as it might do more harm that good.  The story of Kitty made me ring the cops last night, and I hope the students listening to Kitty’s legacy, the parable, in that class will take away a sense of responsibility that actually, I think we all share.

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