For more than half an hour thirty-eight respectable, law-abiding citizens in Queens (New York) watched a killer stalk and stab a woman in three separate attacks in Kew Gardens.

Twice, the sound of their voices and the sudden glow of their bedroom lights interrupted him and frightened him off.

Not one person telephoned the police during the assault; one witness called after the woman was dead. (Source: Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion)

The Bystander Effect

This shocking story occurred in New York City in the 60’s.

The murdered woman was Kitty Genovese, a young woman on her way home from work and she died that night because  of a social phenomenon called The Bystander Effect.

Social psychologists have found that in 68% of violent assaults, The Bystander Effect is in play.  68%!

Robert Cialdini, the author of Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, puts this down to social proof.  If we see someone else helping, then we will step in and help.  If we don’t, then we assume everything is okay or that someone else will deal with the problem.

What would you do?

I had a small experience of this on Tuesday when I was walking back from the London Bridge as I came across a man sprawled across the pavement.

I stopped, saw that he was breathing and moved on.

But then I saw a crutch leaning against a wall, and 10 feet on, there was another crutch.  I was unsure what to do, but felt very uncomfortable leaving him there.

So I walked back and asked him if he was okay.  No response.

Another man joined me at that stage and we had a discussion about what to do and then a third man joined us.

Now, I don’t know how long this poor man had been lying in the street but I suspect it had been a while.

Two young men shouted across the road – “leave him, he’s just drunk” and maybe he was ( I still don’t know), but what kind of society do we live in if we allow a fellow human being to lie, unconscious, in the street without doing anything to help?

When I moved away from the man, I watched about 10 people walk past him without stopping or helping.

The upshot was that I called 911 (Hey, I’m Canadian, what can I say… thankfully they’re smart enough in the UK to patch it through to emergency services anyway) and requested an ambulance.

Within 2 minutes, a policeman was on the scene, and I left as I knew that help was on hand.

Think you would do the same?  Judging by this video most wouldn’t.  This is an example of The Bystander Effect taking place at Liverpool Street Station in London.

By the way… if you do ever find yourself in need of help, your best defence is to point, shout and indicate to an individual directly that you need help and then you will get the assistance that you are looking.

It seems we also can’t ignore direct requests for help.

How can you help?

There are many projects that need our help.

There are many charities, communities and people that are crying out for assistance in one way or another.

I think the bystander effect applies not only in cases of violent assault but in how we approach society.

It’s about time we stepped up and decided that we are going to do something and not wait for someone else to fix the problem.

What can you do?

So, in my view… WE are the solution.  With the current economic climate, there is not a lot of money out there for social causes, but most of them don’t need money, they need time.  They need time from people who can make changes.

Can you make a difference?  Can you help to take us in a new direction?

It’s not big changes we need.  It’s small changes.

It’s phoning emergency services when we see a man lying in the road.

It’s speaking at a school in deprived areas on confidence, entrepreneurship and decision making.

It’s having a conversation with someone who needs your help.

If we wait for someone else to decide what’s needed, it’s never going to happen.

It’s up to each and every one of us to do our bit.  It’s not money we need, it’s expertise, it’s time and it’s deciding that we are going to give it.

Make a difference to someone today

I’m reading a fantastic book at the moment called Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel Pink and it is all about intrinsic and extrinsic motivation; and in this book, there are numerous studies that show that financial reward can reduce effectiveness, rather than increase it.

Very counter-intuitive I know, but study after study has shown this to be true.

And it particularly applies to social causes and projects; for example if you pay people to donate blood, then studies have shown that less blood is donated.

There are a number of reasons for this, but the main one is that we get pleasure out of giving and doing something good and when we get paid for it, we lose the good feeling that we get from doing something altruistic.

What can you do for someone else today?  Don’t assume that someone else will do it.  No matter how big or how small, make a difference to someone today.

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