Saturday, March 24, 2007

Cartoon depicts real-life story of bystander nonintervention

Bystander interventionYou are probably familiar with the phenomenon known as bystander nonintervention. It's a term in psychology which describes the failure of an individual to offer aid in emergencies when other individuals are present. The best known example is undoubtedly the case of Kitty Genovese, who in 1964 was chased by an attacker and stabbed to death on the street in Queens. Despite the fact that a dozen witnesses overheard some of the incident, no one responded to her cries for help.

Why do bystanders fail to intervene in situations like this? Studies suggest a number of reasons for this, including the fact that we take our visual cues from each other. We observe each other to help us ascertain how to behave or respond in a particular situation. If others around us do not behave as if help is required, we may assume that no help is needed and not offer it.

An episode from This American Life, a new television show based on the popular National Public Radio program, depicts a real-life twist on bystander nonintervention.

Through an animated cartoon, this episode explores what happens when a new craze takes hold at an elementary school: fifth and sixth grade kids create make-believe movie cameras out of found materials, which they begin to use to pretend to film events at school. Some even begin acting as TV news journalists "filming" and reporting on "live news stories" unfolding in front of them on the playground. These cameras ultimately transform the children from participants to bystanders, with unfortunate results.

It is possible, incidentally, to counteract the compelling propensity toward bystander nonintervention. Here are some ideas on how to be an active bystander in a workplace setting.

(Thanks to Boing Boing for the link to the video clip.)