The Bystander Effect

Over the weekend, I attended a virtual women’s empowerment conference where we heard from inspirational speakers on personal and business development topics. One of the speakers was talking about an experience growing up where she witnessed bullying in the lunchroom. She described the whole scene of watching other kids pick on a girl who was sitting alone, feeling an urge to step in and help, but having a paralyzing sense of fear for being the only person in the lunchroom to react. How could there be an entire lunchroom filled with people, all knowing that what is happening is wrong, but no one coming forward to help the girl?

What is the Bystander Effect?

The Bystander Effect is a phenomenon that occurs, commonly in stressful situations, where the presence of others can actually discourage an individual from intervening. The greater the number of bystanders, the less likely it is for any one of them to provide help to a person in distress. However, when there are a few people or no other witnesses present, people are more likely to take action during a crisis.

How does this affect CPR and first aid emergencies?

During an emergency, there are 5 common processes that take place:

  • We must first notice that something is going on. When we are with a group of people, it generally takes longer to recognize there is an emergency, compared to if we are alone. Interestingly as well, this time frame can vary depending on if you are with a group of friends or with a group of strangers. Let’s think about the last time we were with a group of strangers. Were you engaging in their conversations or trying to keep your attention to yourself? In most cases, when we are alone, we tend to be more aware of our surroundings and notice something out of place, like an emergency, almost immediately.
  • Our minds interpret the situation. Since most emergencies are unplanned, and unless we are working in the public safety or healthcare industry, we are not typically sitting around waiting for an emergency to happen so we can react. It takes our minds a few moments to recognize the emergency, and if we are with a group of people, we tend to look around at the reactions of others. We tend to pause, to see if anyone else thinks it is serious enough to get involved. If other bystanders are not reacting, we may fall into the effect of not considering the event as an emergency and won’t react either.
  • What is our degree of responsibility? When we witness an emergency, we often hesitate and wonder if we have any duty, responsibility, or obligation to provide care. How are we related to the victim? Do we know them? Are they strangers? Do we feel competent to be able to provide assistance?
  • Direct, passive, or no assistance is given. Depending on the emergency, we can choose at which degree we can react, directly assisting the victim, passively assisting the victim (calling 9-1-1 for an ambulance to respond to help the victim vs. you helping the victim), or not helping the victim at all.
  • Implementing our action choice. Now that we recognized there is an emergency, interpreted what is going on and if assistance is needed, it is up to us to feel confident to react, even if no one else is.

We can overcome this.

The paralysis that often comes with the Bystander Effect can be reduced through awareness, training, and practice.

At Show Me CPR & Personal Safety, we have a mission to educate and empower our community with confidence so that in stressful situations, including CPR and first aid emergencies, we have the ability to not only recognize a problem, but to react. We do not want to succumb to the Bystander Effect.

Become familiar with your surroundings.

Have you heard about our #FindtheAED campaign? It is a campaign that we launched to spread awareness of the importance of “finding the AED” within our communities. Whether we are out to eat with our family, shopping at the outlet mall, at our kiddo’s school, or working out at the gym, when we are actively looking for an AED, find one, and make a mental note of where the AED is, we are familiarizing ourselves with our surroundings. This familiarization comes in handy if we are ever in an emergency situation where an AED is needed.

The Bystander Effect says that those who are more familiar with their surroundings, those who know where the AED is for example, feel more comfortable stepping in to assist. It is up to us to take a moment, especially when we are in a new area, to look around, take in the details, ask questions when we are unsure, and imagine…what if there were an emergency here today?

Someone else will do it, won’t they?

Have you ever witnessed a car accident and thought, “Oh, I don’t need to call 9-1-1 because surely someone else has already called.” Coming from a career in public safety, I can tell you, sometimes multiple people call 9-1-1 for the same car accident, sometimes no one calls!

While studying the Bystander Effect, we learn that in large groups, it is common to believe that someone in the group is more trained or more prepared than we are, when in reality, the other bystanders are thinking the same thing, thus causing no one to react.

Taking a CPR and first aid course can help provide the training for reacting to emergency situations. Our courses offer a safe environment to role-play, practice real world scenarios, and debrief what to do should you ever witness an emergency. Want to hear more about the Bystander Effect and how our training helps off set this? Join us LIVE tomorrow on Facebook!