Monday, May 14, 2007

Failing to respond to a safety problem

According to this article on the Jishka homework website, "In 1970, psychologists Latane and Darley published their study on "bystander apathy." They found that - in order to help in a crisis - any bystander has to answer five questions. If any one of these questions is answered negatively, help will not be given."

1. Do I notice something happening? If the person is in a hurry or distracted by personal problems, they are less likely to notice what is happening around them.
2. Is the situation an emergency? Is a person lying in a doorway a homeless person resting, a drunk, or a person who has collapsed from a heart attack? Most situations have a high degree of ambiguity. It is hard to tell what is happening.
3. Am I responsible? Latane and Darley found that with more people around, there was a diffusion of responsibility - bystanders assume that others will act, so they are not personally responsible.
4. What can I do? Often people are unsure of their abilities (training or skills) to help in a given situation. They may be concerned that they might make the situation worse.
5. Will I intervene? Bystanders must weigh the costs or dangers of intervening. Will I be harmed? Will I be sued?

I was led to this link by a discussion on this forum where someone was asking what to do about a situation where a number of people violated a procedure. It seemed likely that they did that because others were without raising any concerns. Bystander apathy can certainly help in understanding that violations are often caused.

There is a good discussion on the topic on the Wikipedia

Andy Brazier

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