The Echoes of the Mind (148-3) Diffusion of Responsibility

Diffusion of Responsibility

Group size has a significant influence on how people interact. ~ James Henslin

In 1964, 28-year-old Kitty Genovese was raped and repeatedly stabbed to death in the middle of the street in a residential neighborhood in New York City. The brutal murder took nearly a half-hour.

38 people witnessed the killing. None attempted to intervene. Not even one lifted a telephone to call the police.

The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing. ~ Irish politician Edmund Burke

An American experiment in 1968 tested the willingness of people to help someone during an emergency. If participants thought they were the only one that could help another in distress – in other words, a dyad – all rushed to help.

If they thought they were part of a triad, only 80% responded, and more slowly than in a dyad. In 6-person groups, only 60% were stirred to see what was wrong, and they were even slower to respond.

The responsibility for helping was diffused among the observers; there was also diffusion of any potential blame for not taking action. ~ American social psychologists John Darley & Bib Latané

Diffusion of responsibility is an innate inclination. Healthy young children are naturally helpful, but they too suffer the bystander effect when someone is in distress but others are around.