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What Makes Some People Help and Others Stand By?

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What makes some people help and others stand by?

A lot of social psychological research focuses on anti-social behaviour. This essay will look at the other side of the coin and focus on pro-social behaviour, specifically helping behaviour and altruism. It will look at what causes people to help or not help and the phenomenon of altruism, the act of helping other for no discernable reward.

The two psychologists who have researched this area most are Bibb Latanй and John Darley. They came together whilst discussing the case of Kitty Genovese, which is outlined below:

"At approximately 3:20 on the morning of March 13, 1964, twenty-eight-year-old Ms Catherine (Kitty) Genovese was returning to her home from her job as a bar manager. She parked her red Fiat in a nearby parking lot, turned-off the lights and started the walk to her second floor apartment 35 yards away. She got as far as a streetlight when a man grabbed her. She screamed. Lights went on in the 10-floor apartment building nearby. She yelled, "Oh, my God, he stabbed me! Please help me!" Windows opened in the apartment building and a man's voice shouted, "Let that girl alone." The attacker looked up, shrugged and walked-off down the street. Ms Genovese struggled to get to her feet. Lights went back off in the apartments. The attacker came back and stabbed her again. She again cried out, "I'm dying! I'm dying!" And again the lights came on and windows opened in many of the nearby apartments. The assailant again left and got into his car and drove away. Ms Genovese staggered to her feet as a city bus drove by. It was now 3:35 a.m. The attacker returned once again. He found her in a doorway at the foot of the stairs and he stabbed her a third time, this time with a fatal consequence. It was 3:50 when the police received the first call. They responded quickly and within two minutes were at the scene. Ms Genovese was already dead. "


After a police investigation it was learned that 38 people heard or directly witnessed this attack over the half hour period. Only one of them called the police and then only after a call to a friend asking for advice. If the police had been called straight away Kitty would not have been murdered. The question of why no body helped inspired the future work by Latanй and Darley and this in term prompted others to look into helping behaviour and what motivates those who help and how those who do nothing justify their lack of action.

Latanй and Darley (1970) conducted helping behaviour experiments over a period and used the findings to produce their "helping model" (Latanй and Darley, 1970). This model consisted of five stages. The first stage is noticing the emergency, is the individual too preoccupied to actual see there is a situation with which they could help. This was shown in a study performed by Darley and Batson (1973) with a group of seminary students as the unknowing participants. Half the students were told they had to give a talk on the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25 - 37). The other half were told they had to give a talk about jobs most enjoyed by seminary students. The subjects were then told they were (a) ahead of schedule and had plenty of time to get to the talk (b) right on time, or (c) late for the talk. On the way to the talk all the subjects, individually, passed a confederate slumped in a door way coughing and groaning. The results show that although the topic of the talk the students were given had no effect on incidents of helping, of those students who had time to spare 63% stopped to offer assistance, of those who were on time 45% stopped to help and of those who were late only 10% stopped. This would seem to support the ides that preoccupation leads to a reduction in noticing incidents where help is required.

Once a situation has been noticed stage two of Latanй and Darley's model comes into play. This involves interpreting the situation as an emergency. As Wilson and Petruska (1984) note "Because people may be reluctant to help in the first place, they are especially attentive to any information that suggests there is no need to be concerned". When an incident is seen by two or more people the witnesses look to see how the others are reacting. Due to socialized norms and values excessive displays of emotion are hidden also most people will pretend to be calm. This group calm is witnessed by all, who see the others calm reactions as a cue that the situation is not serious; Latanй and Darley (1968) called this "pluralistic ignorance"

Once a situation has been classed as an emergency someone needs to take responsibility (stage 3). The taking of responsibility can be influenced by different factors. Baumeister et al (1988) points out that "in an emergency situation, where a group leader is present, the group leader is perceived to be responsible for taking action". Another factor that may lead to an individual taking little or no action is a phenomenon that Latanй and Darley called "diffusion of responsibility. In 1968 they conducted a study in which subjects were asked to fill out a questionnaire. Smoke was pumped into the room while they were completing this. In one condition, the subject was alone. In another condition, three subjects were in the room. In the final condition, one subject and two confederate experimenters were in the room. 75% of alone subjects calmly noticed the smoke and left the room to report it. When three subjects were in a room together, only 38% of the time did anyone leave to report the smoke. When a subject was placed with two confederates who deliberately ignored the smoke, the subject reported the smoke only 10% of the time. This study supports the theory that the more people who witness an emergency fewer will offer assistance.

Stage four: Does the individual choose a way to help? If an individual has skills or knowledge specific to the situation e.g. they know CPR. "Diffusion of responsibility was eliminated when observers had certain competencies, such as training in first-aid treatment, which enabled them to take charge of the situation" (Shotland & Heinold, 1985).

The final stage (stage 5) is whether or not the person who observed the incident chooses to implement the help they have chosen. In this model all five stages have to be addressed before help is offered, if an individual answers "no" to any stage then, in Latanй and Darley's view, help will not be offered.

Research has shown that there are other factors that may increase a person's likelihood to be able to answer "yes" to



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