Are bystanders who do not intervene also at fault?

Life’s unplanned nature means out-of-the-ordinary events can transpire anywhere at any time. The existence of first responders shows that society has accepted the idea that emergencies can happen at any time. However, first responders are not always the first people on the scene all the time. The analysis of bystanders’ reactions during emergencies shows shocking revelations concerning them. The majority of bystanders are likely to continue with their business during emergencies bringing to focus whether bystanders who do not intervene are blameworthy. Despite the criticism, bystanders who fail to intervene are not worthy of blame provided the circumstances justify their actions.

Bystander effect as justification for bystanders who do not intervene

A situation involving very many bystanders vindicates other bystanders who do not intervene. It comes as a natural call for someone to help another party in trouble; hence, people expect that would be the case in diverse emergencies. However, different situations present with varying traits. While some instances present with fewer bystanders, others present with many witnesses. An analysis of several emergency incidences shows most witnesses are unlikely to help, which conforms with the notion of bystander effect (Sanderson, 2020). The bystander effect is when other people avoid helping during a crisis that transpires in front of several witnesses. The failure by others to take action may be informed by the thought that several other parties have witnessed the encounter; thus, someone else will take action. Hence, the above justifies the actions of bystanders who do not intervene.

Presence of a more suitable party

Bystander actions are excusable in special instances where someone else is more suitable to intervene. It is also important to understand that some considerations may hinder other persons intent on helping a distressed party. The process of intervening during an emergency entails careful consideration of the situation to effectively assist. While contemplating on the ways to intervene, bystanders should consider other factors such as whether they are the most suitable to intervene among other issues. A situation where someone else has better skills than other bystanders during an emergency excuses their inaction. Therefore, the lack of action by some witnesses may be accepted where someone more suitable is within the site.

Bystanders who do not intervene because of Perceived Cost

What about others who view that thinking about personal safety is being selfish? Some bystanders fail to intervene for fear of personal safety. However, others might criticize such claims because maybe the situation might have played out perfectly, suppose the bystanders offered assistance. But what if things do not turn out perfectly and the bystander gets harmed while intervening? Therefore, a dangerous situation that may risk personal safety justifies bystanders’ lack of responsibility. This idea resonates with the concept of the perceived cost, which is that the possibility of offering assistance intensifies as the perceived harm of such action decreases (Worchel, 2000). In conformity with the above concept, most people are more intent on helping if the perceived cost of helping is very low. Therefore, a person might have second thoughts when they perceive that their chances of getting harmed by helping are much higher. It is not a crime to be selfish with individual safety. Therefore, failure to take action because of higher perceived cost is highly justified.  

Accordingly, various situations have varying characteristics that may vindicate the failure of witnesses to offer assistance. For example, the presence of many bystanders creates the bystander effect that influences some witnesses not to take action. The presence of a more suitable party may also justify others’ failure to take action. Additionally, the perceived cost of helping might influence a person to avoid helping. Therefore, society should avoid criticizing people for their actions, provided those choices are valid.


Sanderson, C. A. (2020). Why we act: Turning bystanders into moral rebels.

Worchel, S. (2000). Social psychology. Belmont [etc: Wadsworth.

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