Bystander Apathy- Not just a Vague Term

So a man walks into a bar. He goes to a barstool and takes a seat. It’s been a hard couple of months so he starts his afternoon off with a Scotch. The afternoon rolls on and soon he is 10 drinks in and he is blasted. He stumbles outside and takes a fall and slams his head on the sidewalk. It is apparent that he is passed out. This man lays here for hours and hours and no one even stops to see if he is okay. People step over him as they walk back from their lunch break. No one calls the police until finally someone takes notice.

This is bystander apathy. It is a proven and unfortunate psychological fact that humans typically do not act when they see someone get hurt, or when they see someone lying on the ground. It’s a form of conformity. People see others not reacting and assume that a) the person in need is okay, or b) they see it as “normal” since no one else is reacting. I know, it sounds impossible but it’s a proven fact.

I’ve actually seen it happen. I was at my college in the dining hall and this girl had passed out and was lying on the ground. No one was doing anything and people were stepping around her to get in line (granted, it was the Chic Fil A line- but come on people!) I knew about the bystander effect (thank you, intro to psychology), so I went over to her. As soon as people saw me go over to her, she had everyone’s attention. BUT, when someone doesn’t make the first move to help, then what happens? Yeah, nothing- they just lay there.

I know, this psychological fact makes humanity seem like a bunch of uncivilized barbarians. But there is good news. If someone knows about the bystander effect, then they are mentally set to help when someone is in need. I would like to think that I would have helped that girl regardless, but she was surrounded by other nursing students and no one did a thing. It doesn’t make them bad people, it just makes them normal. It’s weird to think that it’s abnormal to step in and help someone in need in a public setting. Hopefully, knowledge of bystander apathy can help eliminate the problem of people suffering alone…in public.

There are plenty of videos on youtube displaying this phenomenon- But here’s an amateur one made by some high schoolers that I found charming somehow.



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