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In psychology, the “bystander effect” (also known as Genovese syndrome) is the name  given to the phenomenon according to which the chances that a person in need gets help, decreases as the number of witnesses (bystanders) increases.

In our professional area, in case of labor or processes safety, is normal to find such phenomenon: How many times have we found a worker making an unsafe task while workmate and superiors close to him remain watching without taking action?. And, what´s more important, can we really contribute to end with this effect and to bystanders to became active?.

bystander effectCampaign on the bystander effect by the British Red Cross and Toyota

Throughout the next 3 posts I´ll try to do an approach to today´s knowledge on this effect, the connection with the safety area and which methods and approaches are being used in the safety area to try to correct the bystander effect.

The name “bystander effect” appeared from a murder in 1964 in the United States, when a woman named Kity Genovese was stabbed in front of her apartment in broad daylight. The event originated several experiments published in 1968 about social psychology which tried to bring an answer on the reported behaviours, with sensationalism and a huge impact after the murder.

Kity Genovese´s killer attacked her early in the morning and it seems that Kity started to shout asking for held unsuccessfully. The murderer delivered two stabs and escaped leaving Kity injured; 10 minutes later, the attacker came back to the crime scene and, when he realised that she was trying to enter her apartment without getting care already, finished her off avoiding Kity to act as a witness.

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Even though it seems that further event´s explanations and publications may be exaggerated, according to an article by American Psychologist released on 2007, all seems to indicate that there were several witnesses watching the attack taking no action and that some called the police, but also not doing more. Some witnesses from the apartments block declared they thought screams were a domestic fight.

This event summarises the concept “bystanders effect”: people watching an event and take no action.

Since an image is worth more than a thousand words, let´s watch the following document that stages the need of help in the street and the reaction of people who met the the situation.

Did you ever witness a similar situation?.I f so, what did you do?, did you take action or remained as passive bystander?.

If you took action, why did you do?. Which sensations did you feel after and before your intervention?. After your intervention, any other witness told you something?.

If you find yourself in further similar situations, would you take action as you did? What factors would make difficult to take action, in your opinion?.

If you didn´t take action, what did impeded it?. What sensations did you have while watching the scene? Under other circumstances, would you took action?. If so, under what circumstances?

In the next post, I will summarise the explanation to the bystander effect under the psycosocial point of view, according to latests researches.


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