Mandy Kloppers

Psychological Phenomena

Bystander effect

The bystander effect occurs when multiple people who witness an emergency situation fail to intervene. It is believed that the bystander effect occurs, because of diffusion of responsibility. The more people there are around, the more we are likely to believe someone else will do something. As a consequence, no one does anything.

The sad story of Kitty Genovese illustrates the Bystander Effect perfectly:

As Kitty Genovese was stabbed to death in an alleyway outside her home (she lived in an apartment block with many neighbours and was 100 feet from the entrance), the friends and neighbours she had lived next to for several years stood by, choosing not to get involved as she lay there dying. The actions of these neighbours thrust a small town crime into the international spotlight, sparking a highly public discussion, and coining the term for what they had done, “the bystander effect.”

The entire attack began at 3.15am and took half an hour, but the first calls to police weren’t until after 4:00 a.m. This was in spite of the fact that people heard her screams. A few witnesses claimed that they had called the police, but that their calls weren’t given priority. Others claimed to have called, but not reported on the severity of the crime.

Researchers call it a “confusion of responsibility,” where individuals feel less responsibility for the outcome of an event when others are around. In fact, the probability of help is inversely related to the number of people present. If you are to ever need assistance, don’t go looking for it in a crowd.

The Bystander Effect was shown in a study by social psychologists Bibb Latane and John Darley. They watched students respond to the perceived choking of a fellow student in a nearby cubicle. When the test subjects felt they were the only other person there, 85 percent rushed to help. When the student felt there was one other person, 65 percent helped. When the student felt there were four other people, the percentage dropped to 31 percent.

What to do to avoid the Bystander Effect

Be specific when you need help. Ask someone for help by name so as to remove the confusion of responsibility. This is especially counterintuitive since we naturally assume saying to a larger group to help us will encourage more people to jump in, when really the opposite is the case. To avoid frustration, pick out 1 person only every time.

bystander effect

The Pratfall effect

Don’t worry about tripping and falling in front of your boyfriend or girlfriend; doing so will only make him like you more. Go ahead and admit your failures to your friends; your humanness will endear yourself to them.

These mistakes attract charm as a result of the Pratfall Effect: Those who never make mistakes are perceived as less likeable than those who commit the occasional faux pas. Messing up draws people closer to you, makes you more human. Perfection creates distance and an unattractive air of invincibility. Those of us with flaws win out every time.

The Pratfall Effect serves as a good reminder that it is okay to be fallible. Occasional mistakes are not only acceptable, they may turn out to be beneficial. So long as the mistakes are not critical and making mistakes does not compound a reputation for being unliked, the occasional pratfall can come in very handy. Pratfall away.


The paradox of choice

Have you felt buyer’s remorse? If so, you’ve seen the Paradox of Choice in effect.

Even if our ultimate decision is clearly correct, when faced with many choices, we are less likely to be happy with what we choose. No doubt this is familiar to you. When I eat out, I often second-guess my menu choice. When you buy a new car, you might toss and turn over the decision. A wealth of choices makes finding contentment that much harder.

To prove this paradox, psychologists Mark Lepper and Sheena Iyengar conducted an experiment on supermarket jam. At a gourmet food store, Lepper and Iyengar set up a display of high-quality jams and taste samples. In one test, they offered six varieties; another test, they offered 24. The results of the study showed that 30 percent of people exposed to the smaller selection ended up purchasing a jar of jam. Only 3 percent of the people exposed to the larger selection purchased jam.

The fame of the jam study coupled with a popular book and TED talk by psychologist Barry Schwartz make the paradox of choice one of the most publicized (and criticized) psychological phenomenons. Perhaps the best affirmations of this tyranny of choice are its common sense explanations: Happiness is diminished with the extra effort and stress it takes to weigh multiple options, opportunity cost affects the way we value items, pressure to choose can be draining, and the possibility of blame exists should the decision not turn out how we had hoped.

Key takeaway

A simple solution to the paradox of choice: Give yourself fewer options. A key to this is identified in the following excerpt from Schwartz’s book:

Focus on what makes you happy, and do what gives meaning to your life

The Spotlight effect

The perception of our being under constant scrutiny is merely in our minds, and the paranoia and self-doubt that we feel each time we make a mistake does not truly reflect reality. According to the Spotlight Effect, people aren’t paying attention at our moments of failure nearly as much as we think.

To test the Spotlight Effect, a team of psychologists at Cornell asked a group of test subjects to wear an embarrassing T-shirt (featuring a picture of Barry Manilow’s face) and estimate how many other people had noticed what they were wearing. The estimations of the test subjects were twice as high as the actual number.

You are under the spotlight less often than you think. Acknowledging this should lead to increased comfortability and relaxation in public settings and more freedom to be yourself. More so, when you do make a mistake, you can rest easy knowing that its impact is far less than you think. Psychologist Kenneth Savitsky puts it this way:

You can’t completely eliminate the embarrassment you feel when you commit a faux pas, but it helps to know how much you’re exaggerating its impact.

Photo by pawel szvmanski on Unsplash