(Only, general information about diffusion of responsibility is discussed but not the details of the experiment)
Real life example of diffusion of responsibility:
In 1964, at least 38 witnesses had observed a young woman being stabbed to death in the middle of a street in a residential section of a New York city. None attempted to intervene or call the police.
This may occur due to conscienceless and inhumane lack of intervention. Terms such as “dehumanization produced by the urban environment”, "depersonalized by living in the cold society," or “psychopaths” and “moral decay” are coined to explain the phenomenon.
Another factor is rational and irrational fears about what might happen to a person who does intervene. This fear exists in the form of public embarrassment, physical harm, involvement with police procedures, lost work days and jobs.
Two reasons on why any individual may have delayed or failed to help are:
- the responsibility for helping was diffused among the observers,
- there was also diffusion of any potential blame for not taking action.
When only one bystander is present in an emergency, if help is to come, it must come from him. Thus, any pressure to intervene focuses uniquely on him.
When there are several observers present, the responsibility for intervention is shared among all the onlookers and is not unique to any one. As a result, no one helps. And in this case the potential blame is also diffused to the observers.
There are two types of intervention:
- Direct intervention - such as breaking up a fight, extinguishing a fire, swimming out to save a drowner. This often requires skill, knowledge, or physical power. and may involve danger. Research results by Berkowitz seem to suggest that males are more responsible than females for this kind of direct intervention.
- Indirect intervention - to report it to someone qualified to handle it, such as the police. For this type of intervention, sex or medical competence does not appear to affect one's qualifications or responsibilities. Anybody, male or female, medically trained or not, can find the experimenter.
The experiment’s key finding:
It is also important to note however, this experiment seem to indicate that such personality variables may not be as important as these explanations suggest.
Alienation, Machiavellianism, acceptance of social responsibility and authoritarianism are often cited in these explanations.Yet they did not predict the speed or likelihood of help. In sharp contrast, the perceived number of bystanders did.