Why we can watch someone being murdered, and not help.

Tap, tapping his way (the wrong one) through the tube station and (almost) into walls, if it weren’t for the long stick clenched tightly in his fist, the man with the closed eyes evoked a strange reaction is all that stood by to observe him.

Raising a variety of emotions in me, most of them unwarranted, one thing came to mind. The overwhelming thought of why the hell isn’t anyone helping him!? That, of course, included myself. I wasn’t helping either, just thinking, and watching, and, unfortunately, pitying.

I remember studying it in Psychology… Bystander behaviour. The belief that someone else would help, and therefore absolving yourself of responsibility. One of the most famous cases of bystander behaviour is the murder of Kitty Genovese in 1964. Brutally murdered in New York, 38 people heard or observed the ordeal, which went on for more than half an hour – no one helped or called the police.


There are a few suggestions:
1) Each bystander looks to the others to see how to behave. If no one acts, then the situation is interpreted as not an emergency and no help is given.
2) People do not want to look foolish in public by over-reacting to potentially safe situations.
3) When other people are present, people assume someone else will deal with the situation. In other words; The greater the number of bystanders, the less likely it is that any of them will help.

One woman eventually helped the man. I wanted to hug her for being braver and more compassionate than the rest of us bustling passers by that were too caught up in our first world pains to help someone with a genuine plight.


3 thoughts on “Why we can watch someone being murdered, and not help.

  1. I think your right. It boils down to shared responsibility and ultimately that the majority of people will act as a crowd rather than individuals. It’s always amazed me how we we all seem to have opinions and morals, but when it comes to it we seem reluctant to stand up for what we think is right, often shying away from risk and conflict.

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