As a student of Cardiff University, we hope that you’ll play your part in creating a safe campus culture. Acting as an Empowered Bystander is easy and can have a huge impact.
What is the Bystander Effect?
The Bystander Effect is a psychological phenomenon where you are less likely to receive or give aid when part of a larger crowd, even if you or another person are in a threatening or harmful situation. When you are alone, you are both more likely to respond, and also faster to do so. This is due to the diffusion of responsibility, audience inhibition, social influence, and possibly even an overall lack of sense of community. As the group size increases the responsibility is perceived as shared and the result can mean no one helping at all. Additionally, sometimes giving aid can endanger you, and you have a responsibility to keep yourself safe. However, there are indirect means of assistance such as reporting to the authorities or someone with expertise to handle the matter.
The Bystander Effect occurs when:
- There is a diffusion of responsibility: the presence of others diffuse the sense of individual responsibility to assist someone in need of help.
- The situation is ambiguous: if the situation is not an explicit or certain threat people are less likely to offer help in comparison to a clear emergency.
- The perceived cost is high: as the perceived cost to ourselves increases the likelihood of helping decreases.
- Evaluation of the situation indicates a social risk: often people choose not to intervene for fear of incorrectly evaluating the situation, making a false accusation, which may result in embarrassing themselves.
Six factors that can help in overcoming the Bystander Effect
There are various ways to increase the likelihood of pro-social behaviour and heroism.
1. Be observant
Often people fail to take action to help is because they are not aware of what is happening until it is too late. Ambiguous situations can make it difficult to determine if there is anyone in need or a threat present. Being observant will help you stay alert and attuned to the situation, which can help you decide how to best to react.
2. Being skilled and knowledgeable
When confronted with an emergency situation, knowing what to do greatly increases the likelihood that a person will take action. With regards to sexual violence, understanding some of the signs of unhealthy relationship behaviours can help you to identify the best course of action.
3. Forming a personal relationship
Research indicates that we are more likely to help people that we know personally. In an emergency situation, people in danger can help cultivate a more personalised response even in strangers by taking a few important steps:
- If you are the one in trouble, make direct eye contact and directly ask an individual for help, rather than a general plea to the group.
- If you are the one observing someone in trouble in a crowd, tell the person next to you that you both should help. Singling out another individual and asking for assistance in helping the person in trouble can alleviate both you and another from the Bystander Effect.
4. Seeing others as deserving of help
People are also more likely to help others if they think that the person truly deserves it. If negative assumptions come to mind about a person in a threatening or poor situation, you should try to cast aside these assumptions and act in favour of the person’s safety. Everyone has a right to a safe environment and as part of a society we must protect that right if we can, as long as it does not endanger our own. Even if a person is intoxicated or looks a mess, if you have the power to help without threatening your own safety, then please do.
5. Don’t let your negative mood obstruct your desire or ability to help
Researcher has indicated that pro-social behaviour is facilitated by people feeling good about themselves. Your happiness and success may make you more likely to lend assistance to someone in need. Relatively small events can trigger such feelings such as listening to a favourite song, enjoying a warm summer day, or successfully completing an important task at work can leave you feeling cheery and competent. This is often referred to as the “feel good, do good” effect.
6. Witnessing and being inspired by helping behaviour
Sometimes just seeing other people doing something kind or helpful makes us more willing to help others. Researchers have found that when we observe other people engaging in pro-social behaviours -such as donating blood – we are more likely to do the same. This is a wonderful phenomena which could exponentially counteract the Bystander Effect. Imagine you witness an incident of Violence and Abuse, and you watch someone step up and intervene, yourself and others nearby might be empowered to do the same in another instance. The impact of helping one person could help others tenfold.
To recognise the Bystander Effect is to understand our role as part of a world larger than ourselves, as part of a community. We must act on a sense of responsibility and be empowered by our numbers, not deflated by it. To reduce avoidance, ignorance, and negligence of responsibility when witnessing someone else in an emergency we must establish a community with:
- Emotional connections
- Positive influence
- Fulfillment of needs
- Community membership
In doing so we create a safer and more positive environment for all.
The Four Steps To Intervention…
You can only intervene and prevent or stop someone in danger once you are in a position in which you have overcome the Bystander effect by:
- Noticing the event
- Interpreting that there is an issue
- Feeling a sense of responsibility
- Feeling you posses the necessary abilities to act.
How can I make a difference?
Whether you see a friend who has had too much to drink, a housemate who seems sad and withdrawn, or an incident of violence or abuse on campus, as a member of the Cardiff University community you have a role to play in creating a safe, healthy campus environment.
Before jumping into a potentially dangerous situation, be smart and think about your own safety.
Ask yourself these questions:
- How can I keep myself safe in this situation?
- What are all the options available?
- Who else might be able to assist me?
Aside from safety in numbers, you may have more influence on the situation when you work together with someone else or even several people.
The Four D’s of Bystander Intervention
- Direct: Point out threatening or inappropriate behavior in a safe, respectful manner.
- Distract: Make up an excuse to help the friend get away from someone who might pose danger.
- Delegate: Alert a bartender or party host that someone has had too much to drink.
- Delay: Check in with the victim of the incident after it has occurred to see if you can do anything to help them. Maybe you weren’t there when the incident happened, but you see someone looking really upset walking down the street. Simply saying “Hey, are you okay? Can I do anything?” again illustrates that they are not alone and that you care about those in your community.
TOP TIP: When someone is telling you what happened to them, a simple “I’m so sorry that happened to you” can speak leaps and bounds about supporting each other’s struggles. It is important to follow this up by helping them to source further support. This might be through:
- Disclosing to the Disclosure Response Team
- Champions of Change
- General Practitioner
- University’s Student Support and Wellbeing services
- Outside charities and support services such as SARC, New Pathways etc.
Champions of Change are student volunteers who have had additional training to provide peer support to those affected by violence and abuse. They will act as Empowered Bystanders if they see unacceptable behaviour around campus. If you are interested in becoming a Champion of Change, please email Amy at firstname.lastname@example.org
WE KNOW, violence and abuse affects our students. IT’S NOT ON, and we are addressing it. WE CAN HELP, our Disclosure Response Team offer practical support. YOU CAN HELP, recognise the signs, tell us if you know a student is at risk.
WE CAN HELP
If you have experienced violence or abuse of any kind, you are entitled to free, non-judgmental support. Please don’t be afraid to reach out to us.
The Disclosure Response Team:
Let us know using the online disclosure tool.
hours: Monday to Friday, 09:00 – 16:30
phone: 029 2087 4844
out of hours: 0808 8010 800 (Live Fear Free Helpline)
search: ‘Violence and Abuse’ on the student Intranet for more.
Your feedback and help please
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Nichola (Placement Student) and Sophie (HEFCE Marketing Project Lead),
Counselling, Health and Wellbeing Team.
Your Student Life, Supported.
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