Advanced Essay #3: The Bystander Effect


For my essay, I decided to discuss the bystander effect and its effect on those outside of violent situations. I attempted to discuss multiple factors that allow the bystander effect to remain. Through my sources, I analyzed these factors and created a thesis for my essay.


The effects of violence are different for each individual. Those exposed to or directly affected by violence are influenced by its effects in different ways. However, those who are not influenced by violence react to it with contrast. Those who are not affected can be considered a bystander to the situation. They are able to view the violence without becoming involved with or being affected by it. However, bystanders are also able to insert themselves within a violent situation. Thus, they are able to involve themselves within a situation but are more likely to disregard the effects of violence than those who were not given the option to become a bystander.

In terms of more physical violence, a bystander is able to place themselves into the situation to stop it from happening. More often, it is consciously seen as right to avoid becoming a bystander. This forms a moral dilemma for bystanders as to their involvement with violence.

In many cases, bystanders are able to feel involved while not necessarily taking action. This common pattern has become an issue; bystanders adopt a belief that they are solving situations without supporting those affected by violence. An article for Quartz, a website for historical and reflective articles, by Keshia Naurana Badalge proposes that this problem is caused by the a recent push for social activism on social media. “Psychologists Bibb Latané and John Darley, who first demonstrated the bystander effect, attributed this phenomenon to two factors: a perceived diffusion of responsibility (thinking that someone else in the group will help) and social influence (where observers see the inaction of the group as evidence that there is no reason to intervene)” (2017). Recording and discussing injustices through violence online is seen as an efficient option for creating social influence. If one person posts about an event on social media, others are more likely to join them. However, this spread of social influence through social media fails to solve the issues of the bystander effect. If people are more inclined to record and write posts against violence, they are not actively attempting to stop the violence that is currently happening. This is how social influence connects to the diffusion of responsibility. People feel that they are doing their part by simply posting online. They are no longer responsible for stopping the violence because a focus on social media allows them to feel as though they have solved the issues. Social media’s effect on a bystander is massive. It allows them to feel as though they are involved in stopping violence, while still remaining a bystander.

In the same article, the writer discusses further the actions of bystanders and their goals through social media. This author also discusses a potential unconscious trait that is shown through the posting of these videos. She sites a video from a situation on April 9, 2017, saying that “a video of a man being dragged off a United Airlines flight was posted on the internet and went viral. But I don’t need to tell you that. Each of your most outspoken Facebook friends probably posted about the event, highlighting the aspects of it that best reinforced their worldview” (2017). Social media is a powerful tool in attempting to reveal violence. However, it’s potential becomes blurred as the focus on violence shifts to bystanders attempting to prove their thoughts on a situation. Many people attempt to bridge the violent situation into their personal beliefs, essentially making the situation about themselves.

In a report written by Bibb Latené and John M. Darley, the authors discuss the cause of the bystander effect. They write, “If an individual is to intervene in an emergency, he must make, not just one, but a series of decisions” (1969). The causation of the bystander effect lies in self-preservation. This “series of decisions” includes many factors, most of which balance the benefits of intervening against the drawbacks. Potential harm and incentive are just two of the considered factors that result in said decision, and both directly affect the bystander. By the time the decision is made, the violence could have expanded or shifted somehow, causing said bystander to consider additional factors. This creates a cycle, which causes more bystanders to not involve themselves in dangerous situations. The idea of self-preservation forms the bystander effect and allows a bystander to stay one without feeling repercussions.

Social media and self-preservation are just two of the elements that reinforce the bystander effect. There are many other components, and discussing several of them allows for more discussion on the topic, including potential discussion on how to change of remove this effect with positive results.

Works Cited

Our phones make us feel like social-media activists, but they’re actually turning us into bystanders (2017) by Keshia Naurana Badalge

Bystander “Apathy" (1969) by Bibb Latené and John M. Darley