“A man approached the gates of heaven and asked to be admitted. ‘Tell me one good thing you have ever done in your life,’ said St Peter. ‘Well,’ said the man. ‘I saw a group of skinheads harassing an elderly lady, and so I went over and kicked the leader in the shin.’ Impressed, St Peter asked when this act of bravery had occurred. ‘About 40 seconds ago,’ came the response.” (Cardwell, Clark & Meldrum 2001)
Bystander apathy (effect) can be defined as a tendency for people to more likely act in an emergency or come to the aid of others when they are alone, or conversely, the lesser likelihood of an observer to help people in trouble if other people are present. (Corsini 1999). There have been many theories surrounding bystander behaviour; two prominent examples are Latanï¿½ and Darley’s (1970) Cognitive model and Piliavin et al.’s (1981) Bystander-calculus model. These theories have been widely discussed and have many similar and contrasting ideas.
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Latanï¿½ and Darley’s cognitive model of bystander behaviour is considered a classic theory in psychology; it uses a five-stage model to show that bystander intervention depends on the outcomes of a series of decisions. These stages progress from whether the bystander notices the incident to determine whether their intervention would put them in danger. The model argues that a person’s response could be inhibited at any time during the five stages; examples of these are; audience inhibition, social influence and norms, and diffusion of responsibility. (Latanï¿½ & Nida 1981).
A series of experiments were conducted in support of this theory. First, Latanï¿½ and Darley (1970) carried out an experiment whereby male participants were invited to discuss some of the problems involved in life at a large university. While they were completing a questionnaire, the room was filled with smoke through a wall vent. Participants were either alone, with two other participants they did not know, or two confederates who completely ignored the smoke. Latanï¿½ and Darley wanted to establish how the participants would react and how long they took to do it.
The results showed that people in such situations look to others around them to decide what to do was correct. 75% of the participants who took positive action, 38% of the two-stranger groups reacted the same way, and only 10% of participants grouped with two confederates acted. Latanï¿½ and Darley concluded that the presence of others could inhibit people from responding in an emergency; the more people, the slower the response. (Hogg & Vaughan 2002)
In evaluating Latanï¿½ and Darley’s model, Schroeder et al. (1995) believe that this model provides a valuable framework for understanding Bystander behaviour. Although this model was initially designed to explain emergency intervention, it has been successfully applied to many other events. However, it doesn’t provide a complete picture; it doesn’t tell us why these ‘no’ decisions are taken at any of the five steps, particularly when the situation has been defined as an emergency and personal responsibility has been accepted.
Also, as Dovidio (1995) points out, the model focuses on why people don’t help others – why people intervene needs to be considered. Research has shown that Piliavin et al.’s (1969,1981) Arousal-Cost-Reward Model investigates this. Thus, the second central theory surrounding Bystander Behaviour is the Arousal-Cost-Reward Model formulated by Piliavin et al. (1969, 1981). This theory was first developed in 1969 to explain the results of the New York Subway experiment. It was later revised in 1981 to cover both emergency and non-emergency intervention.
The Arousal-Cost -Reward theory is an effective alternative to Latanï¿½ and Darley’s (1970) cognitive model; it has been suggested that it is a fine-tuning of some of the processes outlined in the decision model by identifying several critical situational and bystander variables that help to determine whether the bystander will intervene in various circumstances. However, Latanï¿½ and Darley noted that labelling the failure to help a victim in an emergency is too simplistic as it could be concealing other variables and processes. (Hogg & Vaughan 2002)
In 1981 Piliavin et al. revised the model. They began to consider the influence of a new range of variables, such as bystander personality and mood, the clarity of the emergency, victim and potential helpers and the attributions made by potential helpers and the victim’s deservingness. Although some of these variables are addressed in Latanï¿½ and Darley’s (1970) cognitive model, they are not focused on to the same extent.
According to Piliavin, there are two significant influences on Bystander intervention; the first is arousal, the response to the need or distress of others; this is the primary motivational construct. This component suggests that the bystander feels discomfort and seeks to reduce this by intervention. This component differs from Latanï¿½ and Darley’s model as it moves away from cognitive processes. The second component, cost-reward, is similar to the decision model as it introduces cognition. In this section, the Bystander determines the costs and rewards of intervening or remaining uninvolved.
This is similar to stage 3 in the decision model, whereby the Bystander decides whether to assume personal responsibility. The idea that the Bystander will choose the response that most rapidly reduces the discomfort produced by arousal is supported by Dovidio et al. 1991. (Gross 2001) Another factor explaining why bystanders choose not to intervene that can be applied to both theories is the cost of time. This was shown in a content analysis of answers in response to five written traffic accident scenarios (Bierhoff et al. 1987) (Montada & Bierhoff 1991).
People who have demanding lives find waiting frustrating; this is why the willingness to sacrifice time for a person in need can be seen as generous (time is money: Bierhoff & Klein, 1988) (Gross 2001). The most frequently mentioned motives for helping were; enhancement of self-esteem and moral obligation. These motives are demonstrated in Piliavin’s model within the cost-reward component. One fundamental difference between Piliavin et al.’s (1969, 1981) Arousal-Cost-Reward model and Latanï¿½ and Darley’s (1970) Cognitive model is the structure.
Latanï¿½ and Darley focused on a stage-by-stage procedure to determine whether help would be given; this model suggests that bystander intervention would not occur unless all five stages were completed. However, Piliavin et al. focused specifically on two main components to explain bystander behaviour. First, a similarity between the structures is the cause and effect relationship; in both the cognitive and the arousal-cost-reward models, the primary stages/components affected the outcome and determined whether intervention occurred.
One theory that connects both Latanï¿½ and Darley’s Cognitive model and Piliavin et al.’s Arousal-Cost-Reward model is Sherif’s (1935) Autokinetic Paradigm; a study in which Sherif used this optical illusion to determine participants’ reactions when asked to say how far the light was moving. Results showed that 100% of participants changed their answers when put in groups with confederates. This, it has been suggested, is similar to the nature of an emergency as both situations involve uncertainty, ambiguity and a lack of structure in terms of a proper basis for judgement or action.
Therefore, it could be assumed that the individual will look to others for guidance on how to think and act in both cases. This has been shown in Latanï¿½ and Rodin’s (1969) experiment (Latanï¿½ & Nida 1981) and also in the case study of Kitty Genovese case (1964) (Gross 2001). In addition, research has found that not only does the influence of others determine Bystander Behaviour, gender is also seen to have an effect on Bystander intervention.
Regarding the arousal-cost component of Piliavin’s model, research has suggested that women help only certain people in specific ways (Eagly & Crowley 1986). This could help to explain why some bystanders experience higher levels of arousal than others. The idea of gender could also be applied to Latanï¿½ and Darley’s cognitive model within the final stage. Women may feel more competent in some situations and therefore are more likely to intervene than men.
In conclusion, Latanï¿½ and Darley’s (1970) Cognitive model and Piliavin et al.’s Arousal-Cost-Reward model have many similarities. They both attempt to explain why bystanders intervene in an emergency using cognitive processes; they also address the possibility of social influences affecting bystander intervention. However, a fundamental difference between them is in the cost-reward component of Piliavin’s model, as it raises the issue of personal gains or costs from intervening, whereas Latanï¿½ and Darley only address this briefly within stage three of the decision model. Despite these similar and contrasting ideas, both theories have had a significant impact on social psychology and continue to generate research.
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- Montada L. & Bierhoff H.W. (1991) Altruism in Social Systems. Hogrefe & Huber Publishers