Why people hesitate to help others in public?






There have been many incidents where people die in accidents, even though they are surrounded by several people and could've been saved if they reached the hospital at the right time. Down to the most basic things, when you're in a metro and you see a person who might need some help, even though you want to help them, a part of you holds you back. But why does that happen? When an emergency arises, people often rush forward to provide help. But we also often learn of situations in which witnesses to an emergency stand around and do nothing; they take no action while victims suffer or perhaps even die. But why does these differences in behaviour occur? Why do we resist the urge to help the ones in need?

Social psychologists have thought long and hard about this issue after the infamous murder in New York City. In this tragic crime, a young woman (Kitty Genovese) was assaulted by a man in the neighborhood and many of her neighbours could see and hear what was going on; all they had to do was look out of their apartment windows. Yet, despite the fact that the attacker continued to assault the victim for many minutes, and even left and then returned to continue the assault later, not a single person reported the crime to the police. When news of this tragic crime hit the media, there was a lot of speculation about the selfishness and indifference of people. Darley and Latané, two social psychologists who studied this issue raised a more basic question: Common sense suggests that the greater the number of witnesses to an emergency (or in this case, a crime), the more likely it is that someone will help. So why wasn’t this the case in the tragic murder of Kitty Genovese? In their efforts to answer this question, Darley and Latané developed several possible explanations and then tested them in research. Darley and Latané considered many possible explanations. The one that seemed to them to be making sense the most, was very straightforward: Maybe no one helped because all the witnesses assumed that someone else would do it. In other words, all the people who saw or heard what was happening believed that it was okay for them to do nothing because someone else would take care of the situation. Darley and Latané referred to this as diffusion of responsibility, and suggested that according to this principle, the greater the number of strangers who witness an emergency, the less likely are the victims to receive help. After all, the greater the number of potential helpers, the less responsible any one individual will feel, and the more each will assume that “someone else will do it.” However, another important point here is that if the person needing help appears to be a member of one’s own group, race or community, they are more likely to get help.

Other than the diffusion of responsibility, a lot of people also fail to help someone else because it would be embarrassing to misinterpret a situation and to act inappropriately. Making such a serious mistake in front of several strangers might lead them to think you are overreacting in a stupid way. And when people are uncertain about what’s happening they tend to hold back and do nothing. Let's say that it's a solemn street and you are there on the street and there's some another stranger. You accidentally slipped and fell on your back due to which you also got an injury and struggled to get back up. In this case, the stranger will help you stand up as there's no other alternative, that stranger will feel incharge of the situation. Also, we often feel like we don't know enough about a situation or we don't know how to handle the situation; so it's quite understandable that people stay back.

In a public setting where there are multiple people around, it's honestly natural that we fall prey to diffusion of responsibility or "what if I embarass myself" mentality. But we have to act wise and think of the person who might need urgent help. Don't be afraid to take the first step!

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