Helping people in Need : Who Are You- An Altruist or A Bystander?

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Being selfless is a greater feeling
People will come forward in danger of other people, morally this is what we want

Dr. MEZBAUL KHAN FARHAD

Suppose a crowded place is attacked by a man with a knife. The victim starts screaming for help. You think you should help him, but like many others you leave, pretending not to see. You may not have gotten into any trouble at all, but you feel guilty. You have no idea what you should have done, whether you should have helped. Let’s see, what is the explanation of this phenomenon in psychology?

Helping others unselfishly, coming forward at the peril of others is called “altruism”

People will come forward in danger of other people, morally this is what we want and this is humanity. But sociologists and psychologists have found a very depressing picture in their research.

To understand this we need to know the first thing that caused scientists to be moved by altruism.


In 1964, Kittie Genovese was stabbed to death in front of her apartment in New York City by a young man. At one point the murderous young man fled and after a while came back again and confirmed his death by stabbing again. The whole thing took about thirty minutes to happen, and the whole time Kittie Genovese kept screaming for help. A total of 36 people were watching the incident from their apartments at the time, but no one came forward to help her, not even called the police. The incident caught much attention and many analysis & explanations followed.

The question arises if someone is attacked in a crowded place, why no one around comes forward to help?

Two sociologists, John Darley and Bibb Latane, began researching the case of Kittie Genovese and tried to find out why people do not come forward to help in such situations.

Several issues came up in their research.

First, the presence of more people reduces the tendency to help the person at risk. There are two possible reasons for this, one is that the presence of more people makes the incident seem less serious. Two, “diffusion of responsibility” works in the minds of a crowd. As a result, everyone who witnessed the incident thought, “Everyone else is there to help, why should I get in trouble. If anyone comes forward, I will go too.”, came to be known as the ” Bystander Effect or Bystander Apathy”.

Further research shows that when people are alone, they are more likely to come to the aid of other people in danger.

Second, when someone sees another person in danger, two things work in his head, how dangerous the incident is and what he should do then. Which means the person decides whether to help or not, depending on how much he gains or loses by deciding to help.

What are the benefits or harms of helping or not helping others?

The benefit of helping others is to feel good about yourself and to be appreciated by others. And the downside is getting involved in a dangerous, annoying situation and wasting your time.

The benefit of not helping others is that the normal work of the person is not disrupted, no trouble is involved. And the damage is done by feeling guilty about yourself and getting reprimanded by others.

When someone is a bystander to any danger situation where helping is more likely to bring profit than harm, he usually helps. And if there is much danger anticipated, tendency to help becomes less likely.

Maslow’s pyramid of needs


Being able to help in a crisis situation is a good feeling for everyone, which in turn motivates them to help more in such situations later on. But even then, we see that people do not help, because psychologists speak of two things, “fear” and “uncertainty” about the future of events.

According to American psychologist Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs, we value our safety more than our sense of self-worth. That’s why we respond less in dangerous situations. This does not mean that the ability or desire to help people has diminished or died. This means that our desire or ability to help is more focused towards our own security. That is why in this very busy, demanding and dangerous world, altruism is such a rare act to find.

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