The Genovese Syndrome

Posted: February 14, 2013 in Uncategorized

The news video below recounts an incident in New Jersey in which a young victim was viciously whipped in broad daylight by three men who believed the victim’s father owed them money. It’s not easy to see in this particular version, but there were a number of witnesses who appeared to see what was going on but did nothing to stop the assault, a phenomenon known as the Genovese syndrome or the bystander effect.

The syndrome is named after a murder victim who was killed in New York City in 1964 while approximately a dozen or more onlookers watched without intervening. Subsequent social psychological experiments demonstrated this phenomenon and focused on three influential factors:

  • A bystander first has to detect that an incident is occurring;
  • view it as an emergency;
  • then take responsibility to help the victim.

Oddly, the more people who are observing an incident, the less likely anyone is to help. It’s hypothesized that a larger group makes the scene more confusing, which makes detecting the incident itself more difficult. The exact reasons, though, are still in dispute.

Have  you ever experienced this as either a crime victim or as a bystander? If so, what are your thoughts on either the video or the theory itself?

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