There’s a theory in Psychology that states roughly: “the more people are present, the less likely it is for any individual among them to take responsibility or action.” It’s called Diffusion of responsibility and perhaps the most famous and depressing example of this was the tragic murder of Kitty Genovese. On March 13, 1964, in a district of Queens, 28 year old Kitty was stabbed to death outside her apartment. The New York Times released a story that claimed despite cries for help, over 38 neighbors witnessed the attack without intervening or even calling the police. Although further investigation questions the exact number of witnesses, the real number could not have been less than a dozen.
While it’s easy to see these bystanders as despicable and immoral, that misses the point. It’s unlikely that they were all ‘evil’ people and far more likely that they just couldn’t decide who’s responsibility it was to intervene, and likely assumed others had already called for assistance. Of course other theories have emerged since this public murder case dealing with things like male/female power dynamics and other possible, interpretations, however Diffusion of responsibility effect has become the historically accepted explanation.
So, assuming this theory is correct anyone who needs help from a crowd of strangers is out of luck right? Well, not exactly.
You see a few years ago, a Perth train-passenger did not heed the advice of the PA and “mind the gap.” With his leg on the line the man was forced to watch helplessly as all the other passengers….rushed to his aid? The quick actions of the staff and passengers not only got him out of this tricky situation, but his injuries were deemed so light that he didn’t even go to the hospital.
So what does this tell us? Two innocent people trapped in life or death situations with a crowd of onlookers. One is ignored, the other is saved. I’d be interested to hear your theories in the comment section below.