'Good Samaritan Effect' Rises With Level of Threat

Bystanders more likely to intervene in violent situations, study finds

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WEDNESDAY, Dec. 7, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- People are more likely to turn from passive bystanders to good Samaritans in situations that are dangerous or violent, German researchers report.

"The good news is that when people are in real trouble, they have a good chance of receiving help," said lead researcher Dr. Peter Fischer, of Ludwig-Maximilian University, in Munich.

The study included 54 women and 32 men who were told they were going to monitor the interaction between a man and a woman they had never met. These two people were actually actors who had been instructed to stage an increasingly violent confrontation.

The researchers wanted to observe how long it took before individual study participants attempted to break up the fight. To vary the degree of apparent danger, the researchers used different sized male and female actors. In some situations, the study participant was accompanied by a second person, who had been told not to respond to the situation.

When there was a low level of danger and they were alone, 50 percent of the study participants tried to help the victim. That dropped to 6 percent if they were with a bystander who took no action. Previous research has noted this "bystander effect," where the level of intervention decreases as the number of bystanders watching rises.

When the level of danger was high and the onlooker was alone, 44 percent of participants tried to help the victim. In such situations, 40 percent of the participants tried to help, even when they were with a bystander who took no action.

The study appears in current issue of the European Journal of Social Psychology.

More information

The American Red Cross offers advice about preparing for an emergency.

SOURCE: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., news release, Dec. 5, 2005

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