In this video, we discuss the social psychological effect called “The Bystander Effect.”
This is Why You Won’t Help Somebody in Need
Victoria: Hi, my name is Victoria Vives Khuong, and before we get started, I want to introduce someone to you.
Nhan: Hi, my name is Nhan.
Victoria: I’m here with my husband today because we have something super special to share with you. You might know that I recently published “In a Matter of Seconds” which is my autobiography and I’m so grateful that right now it’s a number one international best-selling book. We’re going to be sharing with you a backstage story that didn’t make it into the book.
Nhan: So I’m gonna do my best to play the role of asking the questions that you as reader may have had while you’re reading the story. So in this case, we’re gonna address the first story, the first part of the book that you start reading so the title of the video was…
Victoria: Why Would You Not Help Somebody in Need?
Nhan: So, what does that mean? What does it have to do the story? So, well, I’m giving you too many spoilers. The story starts with Victoria on the floor on sidewalk bleeding in Hollywood. So very traumatic experience, you know, and she’s asking for help. It’s a busy street in Hollywood, and nobody is helping. This is actually a well-studied phenomenon. I don’t know if you want to share a little bit more about that.
Victoria: Yes. So the bystander effect is that when there is more people around in a situation of need, sometimes nobody would help. There is an element of confusion and for some reason the study show that people won’t help as much as when there is just a situation with a couple of people and then we know, “Okay, this is what I’m going to do.” But…
Nhan: Yeah, it’s a big complicated scenario and we have some answers, and there’s a lot that we don’t really understand about it also. But basically the premise is that under certain conditions it is been shown clearly that when somebody is in need and asking for help of the bystander, the person who is seeing the victim will likely not help and this could be you, it could be me, it could be anyone really, a personality of course plays a big role culture.
So in this case, we’re talking about American culture, Victoria was literally in the middle of a sidewalk busy street in Hollywood bleeding out and asking for help, yelling for help but nobody was helping. Of course, Victoria in the book talks about how she pulls out of this, this very dark place where nobody is helping as she needs to find her inner strength. So then for me, the question is well… How did it impact you that nobody was helping? How did it make you feel that you lose faith in humanity that you can’t trust people, you can’t count on people to help you when there… nothing special has to be done? Somebody just has stopped and help you just called the ambulance, or ask you what’s going on. Just give you some show that they care, but nobody was doing that.
Victoria: Yes. So I felt, scared, very scared, I thought I was going to die right there and that made me feel I’m just not valuable or I… You know, nobody cares, what… am I part of society either? and because of the way in which I grew up it’s not the first time that I found myself in a situation like this.
So it’s not necessarily losing faith in humanity, but understanding that at a point in our lives, we just have to understand we are on our own and that’s kind of sad to say, and of course, there are other times in which I feel that we have companion and we have people that care for us that the one person that you always have with you, is you, and sometimes because of dynamics and psychology, we might not understand. But we have to accept that sometimes something like that might happen.
Nhan: Before your understanding of this bystander effect what was your thought process about what was going on and why it was happening?
Victoria: Yes, so that’s interesting, because I had this situation, specifically be in life or death. It was twice in my life and I didn’t discover this until like a couple of years ago, about the bystander effect. So without having that information is more that fear of… well, you know if nobody can help me or stand up for helping another fellow human being, where did we get to? You know, like what is humanity coming into being? Where is our humanity? Where is our heart, our compassion? and to me, always I turn things around, so I always want to learn from those situations. I just want to think about, “Okay! This is teaching me contrast, if this happened, I want to become the opposite because the option is there, right?” That contrast brings an opportunity for something different. So for me, it’s always about how we can improve ourselves because, you know, it might happen to us.
In fact, I remember once in my 20’s, that I was in Spain, and somebody that was, you know, the person didn’t look so good so I didn’t know if the person was in drugs or something but the person fell in the street. So I didn’t… I got a little shocked because I didn’t know if the person was in drugs or the person was, have you know… drunk, or was going to do something. So I had a little bit of that situation of I don’t know if I can help or if it’s going to be scary for me to help. So you know, we all are human and sometimes it’s hard to understand but, unless we have all the information about the other person, it’s kind of hard to be able to fully relate. For sure you know as you say, it’s easy to just help somebody in that. It’s not like I look like a drug addict or any feel? I mean I was looking with… you know, so nice with my pretty dress and you know I was looking fine. So I don’t think I would have scared anybody. But, you never know.
Nhan: Yeah, it’s interesting. I mean, speaking directly to this phenomenon, the bystander effect. The more people there are in a situation like that when somebody is asking for help or needs help the less likely for a bystander to actually help and so the psychology that goes into that is fairly complex and again that only depends on so many factors: depends on the person, that him or herself, it depends on the culture, it also depends on even like social economic situation you know like in a poor area where maybe it may be more dangerous to put yourself out there like that. People may be less likely in a culture where there’s a greater sense of a belonging, maybe an in or out group. So, if somebody is asking for help but they’re part of your out group whereas if you don’t identify with them then again it’s more likely for the bystander for the person not to help. Now that you know, not you’ve learned about the bystander effect. How does??? Did that change?
Victoria: Yeah, Absolutely! Absolutely! Because it’s not person anymore, you know it’s not like “Obviously, they don’t love me” it’s not one does anymore. Instead it’s like, it’s just, you know how we act and how we’d react to the situations and something that I actually heard it in an audio book and to me, it makes a lot of sense is that part of that bystander effect is confusion. So what this book recommends is to actually be specific. Like say, “Okay, you the one with a ponytail with a brown shirt, I need your help. This is what is happening right now and I need you to this and this.” So make it really concise, really specific, really direct, so that people is not like “Oh… well, somebody else will help or I don’t know what’s happening to this person, I don’t know what to do.” So we need to almost like direct the situation so that people don’t get into that confusion state.
Nhan: So that makes sense. I think that’s some pretty solid advice. When I think back on that particular situation that you’re in, I can’t imagine that under the stress and the trauma that you’re in that you have the coolness and calmness start giving orders to the people or commands the people or even just… anything other than just this primal response of yelling for help. For me, I guess my curiosity is what do you think we can do to overcome this… kind of bizarre like a black hole, I guess you could say in the human psyche that kind of lead us to do these weird things. What do you think is the solution to that?
Victoria: Well as you see if you read the book, you will see that I had to calm myself anyway in order to survive that. So I could have, to some extent calm myself and then give some directions and that would be my option if it would happen again just breathe in deeply, focus my mind, and take ownership of what is happening and the possibilities to really have a good outcome from that terrible situation.
So that would be something that I would still consider. But, it reminds me what you are sharing about when I grew up in Spain, so I grew up in Madrid but it was a ghetto like neighborhood. So my grandmother would teach me that if something happened to me, that I should not ask for help, I should say there is fire, because then people care about their own safety and they will help more. They will call the police, the firemen, everything. Firemen or… What is the name? Firemen… Okay! So…
Nhan: Yeah, I think that’s again that those are… that’s a pretty solid strategy. But I think at least the way it feels is like we’re gonna trying to work around this, this problem rather than actually trying to find a solution. Let’s just say we can reverse the role instead of you being the victim that you are a bystander and knowing that you are potentially going to be under this… this effect the strange bystander effect and you may be under these conditions where you are likely not to help. What can we do so that we do our best to be the best human beings we could possibly be, knowing that this is a kind of a strange feature of our psychology?
Victoria: So I would say the golden rule. Just seeing ourselves in the position of that person and say, this is what I would like that, that person does for me if I am in that situation. I think that’s something to guide ourselves by, to just put ourselves in a situation of the other person put ourselves in their shoes and I think that is one of the best rules to live by.
Nhan: So you’re seeing this as kind of like a daily practice, like in general?
Victoria: Yeah, absolutely. I do my best to always consider that. So if I have any conflict, then in a situation I always think. You know I try my best, I do my best to abstract into how the other person is feeling where they coming from? Why they feel like that? and what I would need in that situation.
Nhan: Awesome! Yeah. Well, I think that’s a… some interesting insights and solid strategies. Certainly, I think this one of these things that’s worth thinking about.
Victoria: You know, maybe they have a solution. What do you think? I would love to hear your comments. Have you had the situation whether you were in the bystander’s place, or the victim space? Let us know, what did you do? Or what would you do? I would love to hear. I feel that we can learn from each other. We are really researching this and trying to learn so your help is very much appreciated.
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Thank you so much for watching!