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In March 1964 a woman called Kitty Genovese was
fatally stabbed in New York. The killer attacked
Kitty as she made her way home at 3 am. Kitty
screamed and lights went on in surrounding
apartments, but no one did anything but call out.
The killer attacked twice more, finally killing Kitty
in her doorway. Why did no one help?
Psychologists suggested that the problem was
diffusion of responsibility. No one helps because
everyone thinks `someone else will do it', and the
more people there are present the less
responsibility each person feels. This has also been
called the bystander effect.
Research aim: To find out whether diffusion of
responsibility does apply in all situations, and what
other factors might influence helping behaviour.
Piliavin set out to test the hypothesis `People who I.M Piliavin.
are responsible for their own plight receive less
help'.…read more

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The experiment
Participants: The experiment was conducted on a New York subway over a 2
month period. The participants were all those passengers who happened to
be on the train (between 59th street and 125th street) on weekdays between
11 a.m. and 3 p.m., a total of nearly 4500 men and women. There were
slightly more white people than black, and on average there were 43 people
in a compartment on any one trial. Each trial lasted 7 1/2 minutes. On each
trial, a team of 4 students boarded the train separately. Two girls acted as
observers, one boy was a confederate (role-model) and the other acted as a
victim. There were four different teams, with a black `victim' in one of the
teams.…read more

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There were two experimental conditions used to test the hypothesis that
`People who are responsible for their own plight receive less help'.
- The `drunk' condition: The victim smells of alcohol and carries a bottle
wrapped in a brown paper bag .
- The cane condition: The victim appears sober and carries a cane.
Seventy seconds after the train pulls out of the station, the male victim
staggers and collapses. If no help is offered the role-model steps in to help
after either 70 seconds or 150 seconds. The point of this was to see if a
`model' (someone offering help) affected the behaviour of other passengers.
The observers recorded how long it took for help to be forthcoming, as well as
information about the race, gender, and location of all the passengers in the
compartment and of all those who
offered help. The observers also
noted any comments overheard as
well as eliciting comments from
people sitting nearby.
Layout of subway car.…read more

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The cane victim received spontaneous help 95% of the time (62/65 trials)
whereas the drunk victim was spontaneously helped 50% of the time (19/38
The cane victim was helped on average within 5 seconds, whereas the drunk
victim was helped after 109 seconds. Only 24% of drunk victims were
helped before the role-model stepped in and `encouraged' others to help,
whereas 91% of the cane victims were helped before the role-model stepped
Black victims received less help less quickly especially in the drunk condition.
Neither race, (black or white), was more helpful, but there was a slight
`same race' effect, whites were slightly more likely to help the `White victim'
than the `Black victim' and vice versa.
In terms of numbers of bystanders, the more passengers who were in the
immediate vicinity of the victim the more likely help was to be given, thus
there was no evidence of `diffusion of responsibility'.
In terms of gender, 80% of the first helpers were males.…read more

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Piliavin et al. proposed a two factor model (or theory) to explain why people
help or do not help.
Factor 1:
An emergency situation creates a sense of empathy (arousal) in a bystander.
This empathic arousal is increased if one feels a sense of identity with the
victim, or if one is physically close to the victim, and it becomes increasingly
heightened the longer the emergency continues.
The arousal can be reduced by helping (directly or indirectly). It can also be
reduced by going away or finding some way of rationalising why you can't
Factor 2:
Helping behaviour is determined by a cost-reward calculation:
Helping Not helping
effort, disgusting experience, self blame, or perception of
possible physical harm blame from others
continuation of other activities,
Reward praise from victim and others
safety…read more


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