The bystander effect right in your common kitchen area?
The bystander effect is a well-known phenomenon in social psychology for describing emergency situations where people do not offer, or call for, help when other people are nearby. The most famous example is the tragic murder of Kitty Genovese, in which 38 witnesses supposedly saw or heard the killing but did not call the police. (The details about 38 witnesses turned out to be as much fiction as fact.)
The bystander effect is a serious issue, but could it have lighter corollaries in the workplace? Maybe in the communal refrigerator where food can go left alone for years. How long would you ignore a Strawberries N’ Cream SlimFast shake? Hopefully not more than six years.
No one is saying that your response would have any implication for what you’d do in a real emergency. Just wondering.
Addendum: smörgåsbord posits another everyday exhibition of the bystander effect: A packed train carriage. “A passenger may stand in acres of space whilst the carriage fills up tightly by the doorway but because no-one has yet asked the person in space to move down, neither will they. No-one wants to be the first, no-one wants to be the outspoken one – even when the group would benefit.”
Cass Sunstein is currently the Administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs and has no affiliation with the Nudge blog.
The Nudge blog is edited by John Balz.
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