The Modern-day Bystander Effect

Published: 2021-06-17 06:28:26
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Few could deny the dominant role social media plays in today’s world. Although one might believe that our accessibility to various social media platforms has helped us reach and thereby stand up against injustices, several examples prove quite the opposite, demonstrating how people become online bystanders. The bystander effect is a social psychological phenomenon, first studied experimentally in 1968 by John M. Darley and Bibb Latané, which reduces the likelihood of one offering help to a victim in presence of others.
A great number of experts agree that the Internet, instead of protecting potential victims, actually magnifies the requisites of the bystander effect since one cannot physically see the reactions of the others. This subject is of great relevance as being involved in cruel or even threatening virtual situations is a common experience that can potentially cause mental health issues or even more severe consequences. The first research demonstrating the bystander effect in a laboratory was carried out by John M. Darley and Bibb Latané in 1968, following the infamous murder of Kitty Genovese. In their experiment an emergency situation was staged over the phone, in which participants deceivingly experienced another participant suffering from seizure and the time it took them to intervene was measured.The outcome of the experiments indicated the relevance of certain social factors in influencing decision-making in case of emergency, such as doubt about the appropriate action to take or diffusion of responsibility. The experiment established widely accepted results, inspiring a myriad of researches on the phenomenon up to this day. To test the modern-day impact of the bystander effect, the following research places this social psychological phenomenon into an online context. The study examines the impact of the number of bystanders and the ethnicity of the victim on the bystander effect online, applying a true experimental design.
The dependent variable of the research is the time it takes for participants to intervene in the staged emergency situation, which will be measured as the outcome of the independent variables: the size of the group (2 or 6) and the ethnicity of the victim (Muslim, Caucasian). Both independent variables are between subject variables as each participant receives a different manipulation, either being part of the small group or the bigger one and either communicating with the Muslim victim or the Caucasian one. The hypotheses formulated in the research are the following:

It is hypothesised that increasing the number of bystanders (IV) increases the time it takes for participants to intervene (DV).
It is proposed that the time it takes to intervene increases (DV) when the ethnicity of the victim is Muslim instead of Caucasian (IV).

The sample of the study consists of first-year PPLE students, a sample in which all elements are familiar with the online context having grown up in the digital age. The selection of this particular course is explained by its international nature compared to other courses.
Furthermore, as the research is based on a well-known experiment (but placed into an online context), it is of great importance that the elements of the sample are not enrolled in Psychology, reducing the likelihood of them recognizing the genuine goal of the experiment and thereby contributing to biased results. Although it falls under the category of convenience sample, the study’s representativeness is high considering that psychology seeks principles of behaviour that should hold for all humans, thus the effects should generalize. These subjects are assigned randomly in the experiment, meaning that each subject has an equal chance to be assigned to one or the other condition in order to neutralize the effect of individual factors such as individual traits and beliefs. (Hence, the likelihood of selection bias is greatly reduced, increasing the study’s internal validity. ) Stimulus situation is established for both experimental and control groups by staging an online conversation using own stimulus material in smaller and bigger groups. The control groups chat with a Caucasian man while experimental groups do so with a Muslim man, both imitating seizure. The study is conducted in true experimental design according to the following procedure:

The participant is being taken to an individual room with a computer upon arrival and asked to participate in an online discussion on personal problems college students face nowadays.
At a certain point of time during the discussion, the participant experiences that another subject seemingly suffers seizure which is easily depicted by the style and content of his messages.
In case the participant is in the bigger group, he/she cannot communicate with the others during the fit.
The time it takes for the participant is measured from the moment the fit begins and the experiment is stopped after 5 minutes in case the participant did not intervene.

Finally, the results are analysed quantitatively in accordance with a positivist approach, applying statistical techniques to test the hypotheses and thus study social reality.

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