to help or not to help - Allen & Max & Kelsey

Title of Research: To Help or Not to Help
Date of Study: 1968
Name of Researcher: Darley and Latane
Theoretical Propositions:Darley and Latane theorized that the large number of people witnessing the incident decreased the willingness of individuals to step in and help. They believed in the diffusion of responsibility, in which the bystanders pass their personal responsibility to others in the hopes that other people would be the ones to help.
To recreate a similar situation, Darley and Latane put students from NYU in separate rooms to discuss their problems with other students over the intercom system. Students were divided into three experimental conditions. Group 1 believed they would be talking with another person. Group2 believed they would be talking with two others on the intercom, while group 3 believed there were five people on the line. However, in reality, each subject was alone and all other voices were on tape. The two experimenters then had one person act as if he was having a seizure in the middle of the conversation. Darley and Latane analyzed the responses of the subjects who helped the person experiencing the seizure.

In the book The Unresponsive Bystander: Why Doesn’t He Help, Darley and Latane proposed five steps people go through before intervening in an emergency:
  1. Does the person notice the event?
  2. Does the person interpret the event as needing help?
  3. Does the person assume personal responsibility?
  4. Does the person decide what to do?
  5. Does the person actually do it?
Results: The findings supported their hypothesis of diffusion of responsibility. There was a greater time delay in helping when more bystanders were present. All of the subjects in group 1 reported the emergency, while 85% in group 2 and 60% in group 3 did so during the 4 minute period.
Significance of Findings:
People’s behavior is changed in the presence of others. This social influence played a significant role in this study. Besides the diffusion of responsibility, it was also the potential guilt for the reasons for nonintervention. If only one person saw the emergency, the personal guilt and self-blame would be greater than if others are there to bear some burden for not helping. Another reason proposed by Darley and Latane was because of evaluation apprehension. We may fail to help when others are present because we are afraid of being embarrassed or ridiculed.
Critics argue that the experiement caused unacceptable levels of stress to the subjects and its lasting effect was in question. When the subjects learn that they were part of an experiment, they may have felt used, deceived and embarrassed. Critics said that since the teachers were in an environment that they are not usually used to and they are in a dependent relationsihp with the experimenters, the obedience level does not necessarily reflect the obedience in real life. Thus, they arued that his experiment is invalid and could not be fully justified.
Recent Applications: Darley and Latane’s famous research on helping behavior and diffusion of responsibility continues to influence a wide array of studies. For example, an article appearing in journal concerned with psychological issues of adolescence used Darley’s and Latane’s model to bullying at school. The author of this article concluded that peer bystanders play an important role in “perpetuating the age-old problem of school bullies.” This suggests that educated and trained children would result in reducing bullying at school. These children will be less likely to reinforce bullying behavior and come to the aid of victims.

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to help or not to help - Allen & Max & Kelsey - The Neuron
to help or not to help - Allen & Max & Kelsey - The Neuron
to help or not to help - Allen & Max & Kelsey - The Neuron

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