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Background & Aims

  • The case of Kitty Genovese raised many questions about bystander behaviour.
  • 28 year old Kitty was stabbed to death outside her apartment whilst 38 of her neighbours did nothing.
  • Darley and Latane coined the term Diffusion of Responsibility, which proposes that as the number of bystanders' increase, the likelihood that an individual helps decreases (the responsibility of helping is shared).
  • Piliavin investigated the effects of:
  • (1) type of victim (drunk/ill)
  • (2) race of victim (black/white)
  • (3) presence/absence of helping model on helping behaviour.
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Method, Procedure & Controls

  • A field experiment was conducted on a New York subway train, which used participant observation techniques.
  • Participants consisted of approximately 4,450 passengers (45% black and 55% white approx) who travelled on the train between 11am and 3pm.
  • A 7.5 minute non-stop train journey was selected.
  • A team of four students (two male and two female) boarded the train using different doors.
  • Females acted as observers and outside the critical area.
  • Behaviours observed were;
  • gender, race and location of everyone in the critical area
  • time taken to help
  • number of people who helped
  • gender, race and location of each helper
  • movement out of the critical area
  • verbal comments
  • The two males acted as the victim and the model.
  • Three were white and on was black.
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Method, Procedure and Controls Continued

  • They dressed identically.
  • The drunk victim smelt of alcohol and carried a bottle wrapped in a brown paper bag; the ill victim carried a cane.
  • 70 seconds into the journey the victim collapsed and remained on the floor.
  • The model intervened if no-one helped after either 70 seconds or after 150 seconds or did not offer help at all.
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Trials                                      White Victims                                             Black Victims

                                    Cane                           Drunk                      Cane                          Drunk

No Model                    100%                           100%                      100%                            73%

No. of Trials                  54                                11                            8                                  11

Model Trials                100%                            77%                          -                                 67%

No. of Trials                   3                                 13                            0                                   3

  • More verbal comments were recorded in the drunk condition.
  • The comments generally tended to be an attempt to justify or gain support for their inaction.    
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Conclusions and Implications

  • Diffusion of responsibility did not occur in this study, which may be due to the fact that the bystanders could not escape.
  • Piliavin suggests that before individuals intervene they weigh up the costs and benefits of helping (cost/benefit analysis).
  • Costs of helping may include, effort, embarrassment and costs of not helping may include blame.
  • Benefits might relate to praise from others.
  • This method of analysis can be used to explain all the results.
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