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On March 1, 164, as many as thirty-eight peopled witnessed the brutal murder and raping of a woman. Kitty Genovese was on her way home from work when a man came after her and began stabbing her. As she screamed for help the lights from nearby apartments came on and the people watched what was happening down below. Only one guy yelled down “leave that girl alone” causing the stabber to retreat. After the stabber had left, nobody called the cops or came down to help the girl. Kitty then began trying to make her way to her apartment and in the mean time the assailant had come back to finish what he had started. The people around still heard the screams coming from Genovese, but still no one had called the cops. Once the investigation began, cops found that some of the witnesses had assumed that somebody else had called the cops. As the investigation continued, the police were given many excuses from the witnesses but none of them really explained why nobody had called the cops.


The most reasonable assumption for this occurrence is the effect known as the bystander effect. The bystander theory says that as the number of bystanders increases, then the possibility of one helping another decreases. In the case of Kitty Genovese, it was probably unfortunate that so many people had witnessed her murder. If only a few people had witnessed what was occurring, it would have been more likely that someone would have called the police. One witness to Kitty’s murder even said that she wouldn’t let her husband call the police because they had probably already received thirty other calls. This is a perfect example of the bystander effect. She assumed that somebody else had already called the police so in turn she would not let her husband call for help. Researchers Latane and Darely created a study to test the possibility of the bystander


effect in the case of Kitty Genovese. Latane and Darely found that “when people believed they were the only ones listening to the student have the seizure, most of them helped within sixty seconds” (Social Psychology 441). Latane and Darely’s research shows that the bystander effect could have been the reason why nobody called the police to get help for Kitty.


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Another problem with the Kitty Genovese case was that nobody even tried to go down and stop the man from attacking Kitty. The theory known as the diffusion of responsibility is another theory that could have played a big role in the murder of Kitty. Diffusion of responsibility is much like the bystander effect, but the main difference is that as the number of witnesses increases the bystander’s sense of responsibility decreases. This phenomenon is a possibility when explaining the lack of help in Kitty’s murder. There is a possibility that as the people noticed more people watching, they felt that it should be somebody else’s responsibility to go down and help Kitty. One cause of this theory is that if people do not know if someone has already tried to help, they assume someone already has. Because there is a strong possibility that the witnesses to Kitty’s murder had assumed someone else had called for help, Kitty probably would have been luckier if only one or a few people had seen her being attacked.


There is another psychology term that could have played a role in the witness’s efforts, but may not be one of the most probable. This theory, or term, is known as social loafing. Social loafing is the tendency for people to do worse on simple tasks but better on complex tasks when they are in the presence of others and their individual performance can be evaluated. In the case of Kitty Genovese, the witness’s task (calling


the police) could not be recognized. Without knowing what they were thinking, there is a possibility that the witness’s unconsciously thought that if they weren’t the ones to call the police, nobody would know that it was them who didn’t call. Social loafing could be one of the many explanations as to why none of the witnesses called for help.


Although many of these theories seem possible, I believe that the bystander effect played the key role in Kitty’s murder. The bystander effect states that as the number of bystanders who witness an emergency increases, the less likely someone will be to help the victim. In the case of Kitty Genovese, this effect explains why nobody attempted to get help for her. It is ironic that a person would feel safer knowing that there are people around to help them, but as this tragic event has shown, it would be better if there weren’t a lot of people present in an emergency.





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