Thursday, June 19, 2008

Is Our Society Becoming More Callous?

I am writing in response to the disheartening headline that shocked local and national media observers. A recently released surveillance video depicted a tragic hit-and-run scene, wherein witnesses seemingly ignored the elderly Hartford pedestrian, who lay motionless in the middle of the busy street. The report appears to insinuate that our society has become callous to its brethren. Although I certainly do not condone the onlookers' inaction, I do hope to offer insight into their questionable behavior.

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What happened in Hartford is likely an example of what is termed the "bystander effect." Each witness, perhaps confused and aghast at what they just evidenced, look at the other witnesses to see what they are going to do, assuming that the others will take responsibility. The sum result is total inaction. Ironically, this man likely had a better chance of getting help sooner, if there were only one or two witnesses present. When there exist more than two witnesses, the social phenomenon of "diffusion of responsibility" can bring about the bystander effect.

Understanding the existence of this phenomenon can help future bystanders break free from its effects. Additionally, if one finds oneself in the role of the victim, one should attempt to single out a particular bystander, by pointing to the one witness and requesting their singular assistance. Although the severity of his injuries certainly prevented this victim from making any requests, it is somewhat reassuring that at least some of the witnesses, in this case, did phone 911.

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