Dependent upon bystander intervention

Bystander behaviour is a much researched very complex issue. This essay will take a look at ideas and theories of Latane and Darley, Piliavin and Batson, related to the subject of bystander behaviour. Issues to be identified include situational influence, determinants in helping behaviour, and the ways in which determinants are identified and processed.

A case which clearly shows situational influence is that of Kitty Genovese (1964). Kitty was attacked by a man and stabbed to death; her screams alarmed the attacker to run off. However when no one came to Kitty's aid, her attacker returned sexually assaulted and killed her. 38 people admitted to hearing screaming and chose to be apathetic in response. The indifference displayed in such a horrific situation brought much public attention.

Following this incident Latane and Darley studied dynamics of bystander behaviour. Latane and Darley (1970) devised a cognitive model to explain bystander behaviour. How many are present is believed to impact on response to others and whether assistance is deemed to be necessary. The cognitive model is based on the three factors they believe lead to bystander apathy when there are a lot of witnesses.

The stages are: Diffusion of responsibility; if others are present bystanders may choose to let them be the ones to intervene. The next stage is pluralistic ignorance; individuals respond according to behaviour and actions of others. If nobody else is interpreting a situation as an emergency they will take their cue from them. Finally people may experience audience inhibition; choosing to stand back because they fear outcome and opinions of others. 

Latane and Darley developed a cognitive model to explain bystander behaviour. This consists of five essential elements. These are whether one notices an event is occurring, if the event is seen to be one of great need for input, whether a person wants to undertake responsibility, or diffuse responsibility. How a person perceives they can take action appropriately is vital as to whether they will help, and perhaps most importantly is the decision to take action.

Latane and Darley (1968) conducted research based in a waiting room. Participants believed they were waiting for an interview. The wall vent began to fill the room with smoke. Participants were observed alone and in groups in an attempt to witness identifiable differences. When subjects were alone, 75% reported the incidence within two minutes of it starting. When subjects were in groups, less than 13% reported the smoke at all. Follow up discussions reflected that for some they did not identify the smoke to be a fire hazard.

Latane and Darley suggest humans are expectant on behaviour of each other in situations where expectations are not defined, safety may be felt in the knowledge others know best, or are more equipped to deal with a situation. It is also easy to make the assumption that others have already identified and responded to a situation, this paradox can be dangerous. This study goes some way to implicate people experience diffusion of responsibility even in situations that display themselves as hazardous to oneself if no action is taken.

Piliavin et al's (1981) model for the explanation of bystander behaviour differs from Latane and Darley's model. Piliavin's model places great significance on interaction between victim, situation and potential helper. Piliavin suggests that gender, victim type and ethnic origin are key components in bystander behaviour. Characteristics displayed are a conjunction of situational occurrence (i.e. diffusion of responsibility) and individual (this relates to people's varying perceptions of a situation, reasoning for and against intervention). Piliavin's model is useful in addressing why people act in certain ways and how to account for this and potentially improve situations.

The arousal: cost-reward model relates to persons behaviour in both an emergency and a non-emergency situation and proposed by Piliavin et al (1981) and Dovidio et al (1991). Situational factors follow on to incorporate issues such as whether the victim asks for help. Trait factors which may influence outcome include whether a person is empathetic or not, also their mood at the time of the incidence, known as a state factor is said to influence behaviour. 

Piliavin et al. devised a model to attempt to determine why sometimes people help and why sometimes people do not help. The Arousal Cost Reward Model relates to two sets of interrelating factors, Situational, bystander and victim characteristics. These are followed by cognitive and affective reactions, relating to arousal levels and attribution. Costs and benefits are weighed up by the potential helper. 

In reference to this model motivation to help people is primarily not by altruism, but seeking to reduce unpleasant arousal feelings induced by the situation. Victim appearance, termed victim characteristics, may also determine whether they receive assistance. It is cognitive affective reactions that are important, based upon the fact every situation has unique characteristics, as does each person. 

How arousal is attributed is the determinant in helping behaviour. If costs of both helping and not helping are low, Piliavin believes the subject is likely to receive attention. Piliavin theorises that as cost to the potential helper increases, the less likely it is they will offer assistance. In instances of impulsive helping Piliavin suggests there may be evolutionary basis for this. However Anderson (1974) points out, in some situations people act on impulse regardless of potential possible personal cost, irrespective of the number of others present.