By: Usama Nizamani

During our school days as scouts we were inculcated and instilled with the promise, "To do my duty to God and, to help other people". The rest of school going students too (were and still are) taught by encouraging the act of helping others and being altruistic in their behavior, however, this vital and enormous act seems to be at the decline to extinction in our society. Presently, we are facing a crisis of the altruistic attitude and behavior due to a deteriorating situation of peace and security. Furthermore, the outlook of our emergency institutions and the absence of essential resources too has played an influential role in (our society) producing a reluctant approach towards the particular behavior.

It is commonly observed that people fail to respond to situations which demand emergency (to react) and they are often seen paralyzed in responding to it by their demeanour. It could be often surprising and shocking for someone to imagine that why wouldn't anyone intervene to help someone that is in need of help, such as an injured lying on the road after having through a horrifying accident, or people witnessing two people quarreling/fighting but inhibiting to intervene and mediate between the two. Although, this fact could be hard for many to acknowledge or admit, however, two research psychologists, John Darley and Bibb Latane went on to uncover the reason behind this confusing reality.  

Darley and Latane proposed the Bystander Intervention Model (Latane & Darley, 1970). The model is a five step decision making process. According to Darley and Latane that in order for the bystanders to intervene, they would need to make a deliberate effort to serially counter five questions (mentally) and then as a result offer their assistance in the emergency situation. The questions follow a serial order, at any step  if any question is responded negatively by an individual (mentally), than the approach to emergency-call is withdrawn.

The five-step model by Darley and Latane includes the following questions-

  • Do you observe that something unusual is happening?

In the first step an individual while confronting any odd situation under-goes this phase and attempts to infer whether the situation is a normal one or the otherwise. For e.g. a person driving on a highway sees someone asking for lift at a roadside with a car's flat tyre would infer that the situation is unusual. However, if the person (in the car passing by) considers it to be usual, then he will not move to the next step in the decision-making process.       

  •     Your decision whether something is wrong and needs help?

After having decided that a situation is unusual. An individual would move to the second step deciding whether something is wrong and demands the call/intervention for help. Recalling the previous example, if the person in the car decides that something is wrong with the person on the roadside and he needs help with the flat tyre, then the process progresses to the next step.  

  •    The extent to which you have the responsibility to help?

The next step in the bystander intervention model, is known as the extent to which one feels the responsibility to help. If the driver in the car thinks that there are other vehicles passing-by on the same road or that the Highway Patrol continuously patrols on the route, than there are chances of withdrawal to provide help. However, if the driver thinks that the person is in an urgent need of help and he-the driver- has to do something to help him, then as a result the process will progress further.     

  •      Do you know the appropriate form of help to render?

The fourth step in the model is to make an inference about the appropriate form of help to provide in an emergency situation. After the driver realizes that he has a responsibility to help the person on the road side, he will soon start to think which form of relevant help he could provide, either he could call the Highway Patrol (help line), or give a lift to the person to a nearest workshop on the highway. 

  •     Deciding to implement your form of help?

The last step in the bystander intervention model is the decision to apply your form of help to the emergency situation. This phase will comprise of reaching a decision upon the different thought out choices (of help) in the mind. In our example, the driver will finally choose to implement either one of the two choices. If hpw he decides to go with the latter choice, he will pull-over, inquire the person and call the Highway Patrol (Help line), since, they could be well-off to provide any technical assistance beyond his control and with much convenience.

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Although, so far we had discovered the decision making process which lies prior to making intervention in an emergency situation. However, the question still remains why would people inhibit or refrain to give help when they obviously see the emergency situation unfold before their eyes?

The reason behind this reluctant approach lies in two factors, the audience inhibition affect & the diffusion of responsibility. The audience inhibition effect (Latane & Rodin,1969) is a state in which people inhibit helping others in an unusual situation, because they fear a negative evaluation from the bystanders, if the outcome of their intervention would imply the absence of an emergency (from the situation-itself-). This results because social psychologists have identified two inter-related factors, information & outcome dependence. When people are present in midst of an emergency situation, they attempt to look for the signs  to infer whether the situation is an unusual or not, however, they do that first by identifying such signs in the verbal and non-verbal clues of the other people around them (information dependence) and if they are unable to do so, they inhibit to intervene just to avoid negative evaluation (outcome dependence) as they are unable to detect any unusual signs among the people. 

While, the diffusion of responsibility (Latane & Darley, 1968) is a concomitant phenomenon, it comprises of a belief in which an individual feels less responsible towards the events that occur in a (emergency) situation due to the presence of other people. Have you ever noticed why people filled up with passengers become reluctant to help vacant a seat for a lady standing in the bus,  or  when you see a manhole uncovered in your neighborhood and passers by of the community don't bother to get it covered, or when street lights are bright open in day light and nobody cares to shut them down, the very reason behind this careless and timorous approach is the "diffusion of responsibility".

The reason to unravel these processes behind our psychology is to educate and liberate- “YOU”- the reader, in order to know the very processes which underlie our attitude, behavior and the reason why do we think and act the way we do? The mere awareness of them is not the solution to our unwanted approach to emergency situations, rather to think and act in the desirable ways will only help us make a difference.  Therefore, we must remember and approach with “acceptance of responsibility” and not the “diffusion of responsibility” , “audience approach effect” and not the “audience inhibition effect”  to make our society a peaceful and a prosperous abode.

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It is narrated from Abu Sa’id Al Khudri (May Allah be pleased with him) reported The last apostle of God (Allah), Prophet Muhammad (Salal la hu alaihi wasalam) said, “Whoever amongst you sees any evil, he must change it with his hand; if he is unable to do so, then with his tongue; and if he is unable to do so; then with his heart; and that is the weakest form of Faith.” (Sahih Muslim)


-Latane, B., & Darley, J.M. (1970). The unresponsive bystander: Why doesn't he help? Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

-Latane, B., & Rodin, J. (1969). A lady in distress: Inhibiting effects of friends and strangers on bystanders intervention. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology Bulletin, 21, 795-805.

-Latane, B., & Darley, J.M. (1968). Group inhibition of bystander intervention in emergencies. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 10, 215-221.

– Imam Muslim, Sahih Muslim.

Usama Nizamani, 22 year old is a student of (B.S) program in Psychology. He is also a member of the newly formed geostrategic magazine, "The Fortress-Magazine". He takes active participation in social work, lately he is working with the NWF- Nizamani Welfare Foundation, in order to build and establish town's first library. He takes a deep interest in writing articles on various subjects such as political, social, geostrategic, and of psychological importance, which could help in the formation of knowledgeable society. Usama is an adherer to Iqbal's work and ideology and envisions to inspire a new generation motivated by the ideals of Dr. Allama Muhammad Iqbal, however, he believes it could only be done through the power of knowledge-combined with systematic education and training of self and collective discipline.