According to Aronson, Wilson, and Akert (2013) prosocial behavior is defined as an act performed for the benefit of another person. Altruism is referred to as the want to help another individual even if it means no benefits, or possibly a cost, for the helper (Aronson, Wilson, & Akert, 2013). One particular factor, the bystander effect, has a profound impact on whether or not people help others. The bystander effect states that as the number of people who witness an emergency increases, the likelihood that any of those people will help decreases (Aronson et al., 2013). Processes associated with the bystander effect such as pluralistic ignorance, diffusion of responsibility, and victim effect all impact the likelihood of prosocial behavior, and can be exaggerated by social, cultural, and ‘self’ beliefs.
Once an individual notices an event, he or she must then interpret the event as an emergency in order to help. The problem here is that pluralistic ignorance often takes place when others are around because people think others are interpreting a situation a particular way, when they typically are not (Aronson et al., 2013). In these situations, informational social influence occurs because individuals look to other people for queues regarding the current situation. People usually believe others are better at understanding the situation than they are. Yet, while everyone is looking for social queues because they are concerned or worried, no one is acting as if they are worried because they do not want to act outside of the group norm.
The next step in offering assistance in an emergency is assuming responsibility. Often times, diffusion of responsibility takes place instead. Unfortunately, with people around, each individual’s sense of responsibility diffuses. This is because there is no sense of personal responsibility (Aronson et al., 2013). Also, individuals think that since there are plenty of people around, someone else is bound to help.
Lastly, whether or not people help is impacted by the victim effect. This often refers to whether or not the victim is identifiable or simply a statistic. According to Kogut and Ritov (2005), the emotional reaction to victims appears to be a significant source of the effect. Victims who are singular and describable, such as a young girl getting hit by a car, are likely to elicit more distress in on-lookers than a larger group of individuals, listed as a statistic that gives no real, identifiable qualities of the victims (Kogut & Ritov, 2005). This concept is representative of the evolutionary and empathy-altruism approaches in prosocial behavior. People are more likely to respond prosocially to those who are most like them, such as a relative or someone of like characteristics (Aronson et al., 2013). If a victim is described in detail, it is more likely that people will identify, emphathize, and react prosocially.
Social and cultural pressures, as well as beliefs about the self will...