April 26th, 2010
04:34 PM ET

Understanding the 'Bystander Effect'

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Early in the morning of April 18,  a 31-year-old homeless was stabbed while trying to save a woman from an attacker with a knife in Queens, New York. The homeless man, now identified as Hugo Alfredo Tale-Yax, was stabbed and left dying on the street in a pool of blood for more than an hour.

Surveillance video, obtained by the New York Post, shows people walking by the man. One person took a photograph on his mobile phone then walked away and another stopped, shook Tale-Yax, and even rolled him over so that his wounds were visible. Still, officials weren't called until one-hour-and-twenty minutes after Tale-Yax collapsed.

The story has us thinking about what's known as the Bystander Effect. Psychologists say that bystanders in large groups are less likely to take action.

So why didn't anyone come forward?

Criminology and psychology experts say there could be a variety of reasons why the crime wasn't reported. Under the bystander effect, experts say that the larger the number of people involved in a situation, the less will get done.

The phrase bystander effect was coined in the 1960s after people watched or heard a serial killer stalk and stab a woman in two separate attacks in the Queens neighborhood of New York.

Kitty Genovese struggled with the attacker on the street and in her building. She shrieked for help and was raped, robbed and murdered. When witnesses in the building were questioned by police about why they remained silent and failed to act, one man, according to the 1964 New York Times article that broke the story, answered, "I didn't want to be involved."

Though the number of people who saw or heard Genovese struggle was eventually disputed, her case still became symbolic of a kind of crowd apathy that psychologists and social scientists call the "Genovese syndrome."

Learn more about the case of Hugo Alfredo Tale-Yax tonight on AC360° at 10 p.m. ET.

Filed under: 360° Radar • Crime
soundoff (3 Responses)
  1. Sylvana Salomoni - Asuncion, Paraguay

    Unbelievable. Are people conscious of the consecuences of not "getting involved"? These are human lives, what else is more important?

    April 26, 2010 at 5:13 pm |
  2. Kirsten Verdi, San Antonio, TX

    I didn't grow up in the US and it baffles me that all the people that passed this poor guy didn't help. The person lifting him up and "checking" not only once but twice, and the guy taking a cellphone pic top the list. Something is fundamentally wrong which in my opinion borders on sociopathy.

    April 26, 2010 at 5:01 pm |
  3. Veronica Jordan Brantford Ontario Canada

    It;s disgusting nobody wants to get involve anymore/Just cause he homeless he a human being too

    April 26, 2010 at 4:53 pm |