The Comparison of Bystander Effect and Asch Conformity Experiments


Human behaviours have strongly been determined by the social norms. Apart from their specificity to particular groups, in social norms, individuals create their standards according to acceptable and desirable behaviours (Asch, 1951). Since social norms have an importance in the existence of groups, individuals generally conform to group norms. In society, normative behaviours are acceptable behaviours followed by group of people. Oppositely, deviant (counternormative) behaviour is any behaviour against the social norms. Social control mediates those behaviours by attempting to change deviant behaviours to conform through social norms.

Despite deviant behaviours are sanctioned by social control, in Bystander Effect, clearly observed deviant behaviours are simultaneously not sanctioned by social control when other people are present (Latane & Darley, 1968). Normally, norms are appeared to protect public good, nevertheless, in Bystander effect, those norms are lost, since the deviant behaviour are not sanctioned by others. However, in Asch paradigm, conformity of individuals occurs under the influence of the decision of the dominant group in which deviant behaviour is altered to normative behaviour to obey the social norms.

Basic Understandings of Bystander Effect in Social Psychology

Darley and Latane (1968) demonstrated that our willingness to help victim decreases when other people are present in emergency situation. This phenomenon is named as “bystander effect” where it is not only restricted in emergency situations but also occurs in variable conditions. In the presence of an emergency situation, Darley et al., (1968) measured the intervention interval of participants to victim. Surprisingly, presence of others significantly reduces helping behaviour.  The experiment was conducted with fifty-nine female and thirteen male students. The experiment room consists of long corridors opening to small rooms. The assistant gave pair of headphones with attached microphone to the subjects in one small room. The experimenter explained that he aims to learn how personal problems faced by college students in urban environments having high pressure. He emphasized the followings: (a) In order to prevent embarrassments related to personal problems during discussion, anonymous subjects were placed in individual rooms rather than face to face. In fact, this situation happened to allow emergency and tape recorder simulation. (b) In order to prevent the outside listeners, experimenter said that he would get the reactions of subjects from questionnaire rather than listening the initial discussion. In fact, the aim was here to remove the experimenter from the created emergency scene. Subjects were told to present their personal problems to the group in order. Next, each individual, in turn, will comment on the personal problems of others. At the end, free discussion was allowed. During these processes, it was stated that only one microphone will be switched on, while the other microphones were switched off. This situation was created for further emergency situation, where only the victim’s microphone was on, there would be no chance to discuss the situation with others or determine what others are doing. In the discussion, when the future victim’s turn came, victim explained she was prone to seizures by giving examples to other personal problems. At that time, victim created the emergency situation by saying that she is going to die due to seizure where her voice was louder and incoherent. The groups consisted of three sizes: (a) two-person group, (b) three-person group (includes of victim, the real subject and one confederate subject) and (c) six person groups (victim, one real subject and four confederate voices). At the end of the experiment, subjects filled questionnaire about his/her feelings in emergency condition.

According to Latane and Darley (1970) three primary factors influence bystanders on intervention behaviours. Those are (a) a diffusion of responsibility during the increase in number of bystanders, (b) evaluation apprehension and (c) social comparison event. The variables influence the bystanders are (a) cues emanating from the happened situation, (b) emotions and cognitions where bystanders had and (c) the comprehensible reactions of others.

Ambiguity is one of the factor that influence on helping behaviour to another in the case of need. The situations such as high or low ambiguity differs from each other according to time of given responses. For bystanders, first priority is their own safety, and bystanders more likely to intervene in low ambiguity situations. The surrounded environment also another variable influence on helping behaviour. One familiar with the environment are more likely to give help in emergency situations. Diffusion of responsibility is the phenomenon refers that in the presence of others, people slower helping behaviour since they think that there are others to help.

Bystander Effect in research and remarkable examples 

According to Row, Wilcox and Gadlin (2009), there are several reasons during people do not put oneself forward in the workplace, when they encountered with unacceptable behaviours. Bystander effect was observed at the workplace where bystanders would not like to lose important relationships in and out of the workplace, and fear of the uncertain consequences. Research suggests several reasons why bystanders do not report unacceptable behaviours by explaining very complex real situations. For example, the decision of bystanders depending on the condition of emergency situation, presence of other people around, the repetition of the unacceptable behaviour and the relationship between bystander and deviant.

The research conducted by Thornberg (2007) focuses on children as bystanders. Children generally refuse to help when another classmate is in distress. Thornberg (2010) later expanded the research by investigating moral deliberations in bystander situations during distress. According to findings, (a) children generally do not realize others who are in distress by displaying pluralistic ignorance, (b) children feels close to victim, helps and intervene and social status plays important role in helping behaviour, (c) possible mutual benefits and costs are considered during intervention and (d) children who notice the danger to victim sometimes cannot help if they are in hurry or busy.

Bystander effect has been observed in several cases of the history. In April 2010, the tragic death of the homeless man Hugo-Alfredo Tale Yax occurred in front of more than twenty people. Those people passed the victim even without calling any emergency numbers (Livingston, 2010). Another case occurred in 1998 by the sending of a message of Larry Froistad to the community in chat rooms. His message in the chat room states that he purposely killed her daughter by setting his house on fire in 1995. More than two-hundred people ignore that message, however, after police inquiry, the reality was appeared (Harmon, 1998)

Basic Understandings of Asch Conformity Experiment in Social Psychology

 Asch paradigm is the phenomenon which demonstrates how a majority of group have impact on one’s beliefs and opinions. Asch (1951) conducted an experiment to investigate how people conform in the presence of social pressure from majority of group.  In the experiment, except one from eight males, all the other participants were confederates where it was aimed to find the behaviour of that one male according to other seven confederates. From the beginning of the experiment, those seven confederates were told the true aim of the experiment. The one real participant was the last respondent. During the experiment, first card with representing one line and second card with three lines were given to the participants. It was further asked that whether which line in the second card equally matches with the first card. The whole seven confederates selected the wrong line in the second card, which did not match with the representing line in the first card. At the end, the last respondents conformed to the confederates. According to the results, (a) conformity increases as the number of people increased, (b) presence of true partner decreases the conformity, (c) written responses decrease conformity compared to public responses.

Asch Paradigm in research and remarkable examples    

 Asch paradigm might be the strong evidence for normative social influence. From this point of view, conformity might be one hallmark of social influence in order to be accepted or attain social reward. However, the proposed theory named “referent informational influence” states that the uncertainty of the subjects about their judgements might not be the real experience of participants (Hogg & Turner, 1987). Asch conformity experiment also contradict with the social comparison theory where during validation of the opinions, an individual initially achieve direct observation. In the absence of direct observation, individuals look for others for validation of the opinions. Asch experiments contradicts physical reality testing by creating uncertainty situations.

Several examples in daily life can be given as a proof of Asch’s work. Actually, we do change our decisions according to the majority of people in our environment. For example, when majority of students would like to change the exam dates in the class, the remaining less changes their decision so as not to be discriminated from that majority of people. Therefore, remaining less conform those majority.

Concluding Remarks and Future Directions

In this review article, it has been focused on bystander effect and Asch paradigm by critically comparing two experiments with the examples from previous literature. One of the major contributors for bystander effect is a diffusion of responsibility where individuals decrease their helping behaviour, in the presence of other observers. Therefore, the responsibility that individual have is shared among the observers in the group. Second important point is that people would like behave acceptable to the society. Under the social control, presence of others results in failure of observers to react. Therefore, individual prefer not to help to victim.

The major limitation occurs in Asch experiment is due to they use artificial task for judgements. Therefore, those situations occur in Asch experiment cannot be generalized in real life. Second important limitation in Asch experiment occurs due to usage of biased sample. Study only includes male participants where we cannot generalize this experiment for females. From this perception, bystander effect seems more effective and applicable in real life compared to Asch experiment. Social comparison theory and referent informational influence also confirm this perception (Hogg & Turner, 1987).

In daily life, we can almost encounter with several situations referring bystander effect and Arsch paradigm. The question must be asked that what happens if we become victim instead of a bystander? In that case, we can ask our concern to an individual by explaining our situation in the clearest pattern. It should be better to find one person in the crowded environment. Additionally, we can decide what is true or not by utilizing Asch conformity experiment. Since the decision of the majority of people do not mean that it is true, our decisions will be more efficient in the case of utilizing those social psychology experiments. Consequently, the article demonstrates that our surroundings have an influence in our behaviours.


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Caglar Cil hakkında
Türkiye'nin kendimce en güzel şehirlerinden birinde, Denizli'de, dünyaya geldim. Liseyi Denizli Anadolu Lisesi'nde okudum. İzmir Yüksek Teknoloji Enstitüsü (İYTE) Moleküler Biyoloji ve Genetik mezunuyum. Glasgow Üniversitesi'nde İmmunoloji ve Enflamatuvar Hastalıklar üzerine yüksek lisansımı burslu olarak yaptım. Lisans hayatım boyunca Lodz Üniversitesi, Göteborg Üniversitesi ve Toronto Üniversitesi'nde araştırmalara katıldım. Bu çalışmalar sonucunda Cardiovascular Research ve Journal of Dental Research'te yayınlanan çalışmalarımız var. Öykü yazmayı seviyorum. Öykü Fanzin'de yayınlanan öyküm ve İYTE'de almış olduğum bir "birincilik" bir de "ikincilik" ödülüm var. Almanca öğreniyorum, İngilizce konuşabiliyorum, keman çalmayı öğreniyorum. Amacım Türkiye okuyucusuna bilimi sevdirmek, zaman buldukça eğlencesine bilimsel haberleri paylaşmak.

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