A person is in trouble in a crowded place, but no-one steps over to help. The situation is called the bystander effect, and it appears that the more people watching, the less likely it is that anyone will respond.
But new research shows that even when accompanied by another person, individuals are much more likely to intervene if the situation is dangerous or violent, and when they feel empathy for the victim. The findings are published in the latest edition of the European Journal of Social Psychology.
To study this, researchers at Ludwig-Maximilian-University, Munich, Germany, recruited 54 women and 32 men and told them that they were going to monitor the interaction between a man and a woman who had never met. In fact, these two people were actors, and the after a few minutes the interaction became violent. The researchers were interested in seeing how long it took before the observer sought to break up the fight. They varied the degree of apparent danger by altering the relative sizes of the male and female actor. In some experiments a second observer, who had been instructed not to respond to the situation, accompanied the recruits.
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