Diffusion of responsibility or irresponsibility


This post discusses the sensitive subject of a rape victim and the diffusion of responsibility that was seen around the time of the offence.

In the first year of the course we look at the study conducted by Piliavin in response to diffusion of responsibility (also called the bystander effect) why it occurs and the arousal: cost-benefit analysis that goes into the decisions behind helping in emergency situations. One of the stories that I usually raise is the case of Kitty Genovese who was murdered; during the time of the offence (which lasted over 30minutes) almost 40 people witnessed and heard her calling for help. Not one of them helped or called the police.

Unfortunately, all of the research in this area doesn’t seem to have changed people’s attitudes to helping as was seen in this horrific case:

A security video from an apartment hallway shows at least 10 witnesses ignored a woman’s cries for help for more than an hour as a man beat and sexually assaulted her, prosecutors in Minnesota said. The surveillance video clearly showed men and women looking out their apartment doors or starting to walk down the hallway before retreating as the woman was assaulted for nearly 90 minutes, police spokesman Tom Walsh said…

(The video) shows one person looking out of her door probably three times,” Walsh said. “It shows another person walking up, observing what’s going on, then turning and putting up the hood of his sweatshirt. [quote]

How, in todays world, could we have things like this happening? Going by Piliavin’s arousal:cost-benefit model those people in the corridor would have to have perceived the cost as far outweighing the benefit of helping a woman calling for help.

If one person is present at an emergency event then the psychology would say they’d help; if there’s many it would be ignored. Is there nothing that we can do to prevent things like this happening or is this what the world’s coming to now? Your thoughts in the comments please.

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5 Responses to “Diffusion of responsibility or irresponsibility”

  1. psychstudent September 24, 2007 at 8:51 pm #

    How could you let this happen. Even if you were scared that you would get hurt yourself you could do something. It doesn’t take anything to call the police.

    I don’t know if I could live with myself if I had let this happen.

    Just my thoughts.

    — Rich

  2. jeiny April 24, 2009 at 7:03 pm #

    you never know what you’d do unless you’re in that situation.

  3. carla. October 29, 2009 at 1:13 pm #

    ” diffusion of responsibility (also called the bystander effect)”

    diffusion of responsibility is not another name for the bystander effect, it is one of the causes.

    • Jamie Davies December 13, 2009 at 12:33 pm #

      Thanks for spotting the mistake. Post is now edited :)

  4. London Counselling September 6, 2011 at 6:35 pm #

    If you are in the said situation its only then that you can say what you can or can’t do but since we are not the people involved I can only say that things can always be prevented when it’s meant to be that way. No grounds can be put to a halt when its not what you’d like to happen

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