Morality & the Bystander Effect (Important Short Clips)

IN Philosophy & Spirituality
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A goldfish story and a fake-sick actor story demonstrates “the bystander effect” – what have we become? (Transcripts below)

Bystander Effect: Important Goldfish story

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“I’m not 100% sure why I’m being asked to share the story, but I’m guessing it’s because somebody needs to hear it. When I was 16, I went into what I thought was going to be a normal day at biology class. When I walked in, all the desks were arranged in a circle in the middle of the room. The instructor, who had always been a really amazing, loving, kind instructor, was super militant, super scary, and just looked at us and said, “Sit down, shut up. You are not allowed to move or speak at all, and anyone who does will immediately fail my class.” We were all stunned. I get nervous just thinking about it because I was a straight-A student, and grades were really important to me, and I was just terrified.

So we’re all sitting there silently, nervous out of our minds. And in the middle of this circle that we were all sitting in, there was one desk, and on this desk was a bowl with a fish in it. He looked at us and he took the fish and put it on the desk, and he walked out and he shut the door.

We all just looked at each other, just like, “What do we do?” You know, like obviously it violated everything inside of me to watch this fish die. And also, I heard the instruction, “You get up, if you move, you will automatically fail the class.” And so we all sat there, looking to each other to do something because we didn’t want it to be us.

And what was a very painful, it felt like an eternity, it was probably like two and a half minutes later, Hannah B. got up and said “Fuck this” and took the fish and put it back in the bowl. And when she did that, he came out, and he looked at all of us, and he said, “Look what the world has done to you. You’ve betrayed yourself for what?”

I think about that lesson all the time because I learned in that moment that I am never going to be that person ever again. That when I see something that is wrong, even if it’s just me, I’m going to stand up, and I’m going to do what’s right. And I’ve done that over and over again in my life in very scary situations.

But I’m sad for people who haven’t learned that lesson because there are so many things that are wrong that if you’re too scared to make a difference, you won’t make right.”

There was a little note at the top that those of you just listening or watching on a smaller screen couldn’t see, which was: I learned it wasn’t a goldfish; it was actually a fish that can live outside of water for about 15 minutes without any problems. So the fish was fine.

The Bystander Effect



“[…] place like this street in New York City. If you were unfortunate enough to be the victim of a crime or take ill unexpectedly, you might think that surrounded by all these people, someone would intervene. After all, isn’t there safety in numbers? Psychologists say no.

Research suggests that often a victim is less likely to receive assistance when surrounded by a group rather than a single bystander. When people are in a crowd, it’s easier to pass the buck. It’s what psychologists call the diffusion of responsibility.

Liverpool Street Station in London, a busy thoroughfare for commuters. Unknown to these passers-by, Peter is an actor. As part of an experiment on bystander apathy, he’s pretending to be ill.

Help! Help!

How long before he gets help?

Helping would be inconvenient or even risky. He lies there for more than 20 minutes, and no one raises an eyebrow.

I need somebody, help me.

It’s always very distressing to watch situations like this where people are obviously suffering, and no one’s actually helping them. But what we have here is two conflicting rules. One is the rule we ought to help, and the other is the rule that we ought to do what everybody else is doing. And here you have a group of effectively a group of strangers who are exerting the pressure not to intervene, not to help. And it’s very difficult to rebel.

Ruth, another actor, takes Peter’s place. How long before she receives help?

Four minutes later, and 34 people have passed without stopping.

People don’t really want to know. That I’m just some got the time, but they have got the time. They just don’t want to get involved.

Unwittingly, these strangers have silently formed a temporary group with a rule: don’t get involved. They’re afraid to stand out from the crowd and won’t take action if no one else does. This woman has clearly spotted Ruth, but she conforms to the rule and does nothing.

Watch what happens, though, when someone else helps.

You alright? You alright?

Yes, thank you, sure.

She suddenly finds herself in a different group with a new rule: to help.

First I thought she was dead, I checked to see if she was breathing or not, and I looked around, and I couldn’t believe that no one had noticed her because there was a bloke that sat there just absorbed in reading a newspaper.

This time, Peter’s dressed as a respectable gentleman. Now that his dress is in keeping with those around him, how long before he’s rescued?

“Hello Sir, How are you today?” “I’m alright love”

Six seconds. She even calls him “sir,” and suddenly everyone’s a good Samaritan.

“No” “Why you’re lying on the floor in the rain?”

Because he’s part of the right group. Everyone wants to help.

“I would just hate to be in his position of feeling ill and nobody helping him walking past. So I just like to check that he was okay, and I thought, but it’s wet, so he must really be obviously ruin his suit anyway.”

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Truth-seeker, ever-questioning, ever-learning, ever-researching, ever delving further and deeper, ever trying to 'figure it out'. This site is a legacy of sorts, a place to collect thoughts, notes, book summaries, & random points of interests.