Piliavin Subway Samaritan

Revision cards for Piliavin's subway samaritan study

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Background - sample

Background: Piliavin wanted to test helping behaviour, and was inspired by the Kitty Genovese case where there appeared to be diffusion of responsibility or bystander apathy

Aims: to find out what variables would make it more or less likely that someone would help a stranger who collapses in a public place.

Methods: Field experiment (IV manipulated in a natural setting), covert obs (ps did not realise they were being observed)

Design: independent measures

IV: Victim, race, model, group size

DV: speed, race, numbers, comments (time to help, comments, number, race & gender of helpers)

Sample: 4450 men & women who travelled on the 8th Avenue IND train in NYC between Harlem & the Bronx, weekdays between 11am - 3pm between 15th/4 - 26/6 1968. 55% white passengers, 45% black. Opportunity sample.

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Procedure: 2 female observers, victim, 3 white males, 1 black male as part of research team. Models either early or late, critical or adjacent. Research team all board the train through different doors. The journey takes 7.5 minutes. After 70 seconds, the victim collapses.

In early condition, model will help after 70 further seconds.

In late condition, model will help after 150 further seconds.

In no model condition, the victim will get up at the end of the journey. All the team get off the train, cross to the next platform and repeat.


One research team didn't like the drunk condition, so did more ill conditions - uneven number of drunk and ill conditions.

103 trials compeleted: 65 ill, 38 drunk.

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Findings - conclusions

Findings: Ill victim was helped 95% of the time, drunk victim was helped 50% of the time. 90% of sponatneous helpers were male. Of those offering first assistance, 64% were white. For the white victim, 68% of helpers were white. For the black victim, 50% were white. In the drunk black condition, mainly black people were helpers.

In 21 of 103 trials, people left the critical area after the victim collapsed, with a higher proportion in the drunk trials.

Conclusions: Pilliavin did not find diffusion of responsibility as he expected, but instead came up with a different explanation to fit his results. He came up with the cost-reward model: Bystanders have to weigh up the costs and the benefits of helping or not helping, and decide how to reduce the arousal they experience.

When there is an emergency, bystanders have an unpleasant feeling of nervous arousal. Arousal can be increased by 1) feeling empathy for the victim, 2) being close to the emergency, 3) the longer the emergency continues. Arousal can be reduced by 1) helping the victim, 2) going and getting help for the victim, 3) leaving the scene of the emergency, 4) rejecting the victim as not deserving of help.

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