Bystander Apathy

The other morning I was on the way to work on the bus, when a guy stumbled towards the front door (of the bus). He then fell head first onto the door, twice. A man was holding him up, and the bus had to wait to pull into a bus stop. The man took him outside and put him on the pavement.

We all had to get out of the bus, as the bus driver needed to wait for the ambulance. I looked over, and like most people, presumed he was being looked after. It is horrible to swamp someone with loads of people doing nothing. However, when I saw onyl one man helping him, while the poor guy was vomiting everywhere, I decided I couldn't that person.

I studied A-Level psychology many moons ago, and remember the case of Kitty Genovese, and the concept of bystander apathy. Bystander apathy explains why people may not offer help when someone in a public space is in need of help. The larger the number in the group of bystanders, the less chance there is someone will offer help. We may feel we don't have any skills that would help, that another person would be able to offer 'better' help. We may feel that someone else will help. We may wonder why no one else is helping, and therefore follow the crowd and not help either. 

Anyhow, I decided not to be the person who just pretends it wasn't happening. I approached the solo helper, and asked if he needed anything. He asked whether I was a nurse....sadly not.

I sat down on the ground, and touched Michael's arm and introduced myself. He really wasn't well, and was very faint, and couldn't recall being on the bus. I managed to make him giggle a few times, so I felt a little useful I guess. I also called him work.

The bus driver then decided to ask us how to contact an ambulance. Firstly, we had been there, sat on the cold floor, with a pile of sick, for quite a while.....he only realised now he didn't know how to contact one?! We had to tell him it was 999. Sigh.

Obviously, the ambulance came eventually, and we left. The point of the post is that it is always best to ask. If you see someone who needs help - just ask if there is something you can do. Remember the bystander effect - too many people will walk past and not help.

I also recall from my A-Level, ways to counteract the bystander effect if you are in need of help:

  • Select specific people to ask for help. Once someone is identified not many people will just walk past. So something like, "You, in the blue coat, can you call me an ambulance."
  • Don't call 'help'. If possible, explain what is happening to you, or what you need from people. This gets rid of the worry that they won't be able to help.
  • Apparently shouting 'fire' is more successful than any other call. I guess because fire can harm everyone, not just you.