Diffusion of responsibility

Diffusion of responsibilityIt’s been a while since I wrote about psychology so here is one for today. This particular phenomenon is very familiar to most of us. Almost all of us have been at the giving as well as at the receiving end of this phenomenon. Simply put diffusion of responsibility is the inability of people to take ownership of an action when others are present.

Let me explain it better with an example. You see a person lying on a crowded street. Do you go up to him and ask him what’s wrong? Now imagine yourself in a quiet neighborhood. The same person is lying on the street only this time – no one else is around. The probability of you going up to him and asking what’s wrong is more in the second scenario than first.

The first scenario is called diffusion of responsibility. When there are other people around – people often think that there will be someone else who will do the job of talking to the person or they think that since no one is going to that person then it is probably not a good idea to go near him. People assume that others will take responsibility to help him or have already done it.

It is believed that the likelihood of a person offering help decreases as the number of observers present increases. This is also known as the bystander effect. However, this is not just limited to the presence of other people around. Sometimes it also depends on the subject. For example if you find a well dressed person lying on the ground as opposed to a homeless person – the well dressed person is more likely to get help at a shorter time than the homeless person.

Few weeks ago, I read about the rape victim in India who was thrown out on the road after the rape and she had to wait for hours before someone could rescue her and take her to the hospital. Apparently many people passed by but no one wanted to help. Serious cases apart – even lighter scenarios like helping a blind cross the road, letting a person know that they have a flat tire or seeing a child crying – how many times do we go up to them and find out what’s wrong?

Is it that hard to help someone in need? Can we change this? Can we be more responsible?

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