The Ignored Cry

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By: Amalia Zahra

I was walking when suddenly I heard a loud crash. An old man about fifty fell from his motorcycle. A lot of people were present on scene, yet nobody moved to help him. If you’re faced in that kind of situation, will you help? Majority will likely answer yes. But action speaks louder than words; psychologists prove that the opposite will happen.

The incident above had eventually forced me to think back a news report I had read two years ago. The world was outraged following a footage depicting a toddler -whom later identified as Wang Yue, 2 – who was run over by two different vehicles, twice, and left bleeding in the middle of a bustling market street in Guandong, China on the afternoon of 13 October 2011. The footage had ignited a heated discussion, apparently because there a lot of people saw the incident yet nobody had the inclination to help poor Wang Yue. Some were even pausing to stare before moving on as if nothing had happened. Yue was later rescued by Chen Xiamei, an elderly lady who worked as a rubbish scavenger, but Yue later died on 21 October.

The news had piqued my interest. The world had accused China as an apathetic nation. The event had even sparked “stop apathy” campaign online. To most of us, it seems bizarre that none of the people present responded. Some speculated that the lack of response was related to the fear of bearing the responsibility. When interviewed, the mongers said the reason they didn’t help the poor girl was because they assumed they would be held responsible and blamed for the girl’s misfortune. Some claimed that city people are indifferent in nature.  But it seemed that this is not an exceptional event. For example, nobody could forget about the tragedy that befallen Kitty Genovese, who was brutally murdered witnessed by a lot of bystanders or the Singaporean student who was abandoned after gang-raped and murdered in Delhi on 2013. Who to blame for these unfortunate events? Is it true that these bystanders are heartless and have a lack of empathy? Did they not pity the victims? Or are they just jerks who enjoy seeing people’s suffering? Probably they are just people like you and me.

Side-line spectators

The term of “bystander effect” was coined to explain the lack of action in an emergency situation when more people are nearby. Psychologists had tried to explain the absurd phenomena for years. Finally, in an eventful lunch, American psychologists Darley and Latane discussed to show and explain why such an event occurred. They designed an experiment where participants were asked to sit down in individual cubicles and could communicate with other subjects over an intercom system. There was actually only one real participant in the study; the other participants were pre-recorded voices, including one person that had a seizure. The researchers manipulated the size of the discussion groups (Darley and Latané, 1968). The real participant then heard through the intercom that the other participants had an epileptic seizure.Now the question is; will the real participant help by summoning the experimenter or will he or she simply sit and do nothing?

The study shows that in the non by-stander group most people (85%) helped. But when the number of by-standers increased, the likelihood of individual to help decreased by whooping 54% to 31%. People often think that the lack of helping behavior is caused by apathy or general indifference towards the victim. But Darley and Latane’s (1968) study shows that non-helpers are generally more upset than helpers.A person who faces an emergency is in conflict; this is particularly true when it is a dangerous situation such Wang Yue’s misfortune case. People in general are reluctant to help because they have rational and irrational fears about what might happen when they would intervene – maybe they will get hurt as well (Milgram & Hollander, 1964). On the other hand, when faced such situation as Wang Yue’s hit and run, most of us have innate humanitarian urges that make us want to help the victim. But what could weaken our tendency to help and be a good humanitarian?  There are 3 likely factors :

  • We do not notice an emergency
  • We do not interpret it as emergency
  • We do not feel responsible

In Wang Yue’s case, a lot of people had noticed the accidents and it was obviously a dire situation. So why does people still negating their responsibility as a Good Samaritan and refusing to help the toddler even though they knew something was definitely wrong?? However, the best theory to explain this perhaps because they might not have felt the responsibility to do so. We can explain this reluctance to help Wang Yue by considering diffusion of responsibility. The responsibility is exclusively yours to shoulder when alone, but when there are more people we tend to feel that we literally share the responsibility and therefore diminish it. A lot of people present on the scene assume that Wang Yue will be helped by others and thus reliving her/him of the responsibility to help, since Aronson & Akert (2007) said that an individual might perceive a low level of responsibility.

What is your initial thought when seeing an injured toddler? Only God knew what had actually running on the passer-by’s and mongers’ mind when they saw Wang Yue’s body on the street. But perhaps,Bandura (1999) had the answer to this baffling phenomenon; moral disengagement theory, when we need to justify some unjustifiable behaviour to ourselves we’ll likely draw on social norms around us. Perhaps the people present on the scene of Wang Yue’s incident scene think that if no one else is intervening, then it’s OK for me not to, thus shifting the blame to others.

We cannot just explain people’s reluctance to help through apathy or indifference. After all that is how mysterious human mind actually work. We cannot place the blame on people around us. Before we expect a change, we must start small; by changing our attitude and giving example. If the person who appears in the footage decided to help Wang Yue, maybe the little girl’s life can be saved. If Grandma Chen had come earlier, if , if, if… But it’s all too late now. The little girl had sacrificed herself as if trying to open our eyes on how important of helping people in need. Don’t expect for incentives. When faced in situation like Wang Yue’s don’t wait and expect people to come forward.A simple and small gesture can help another person’s life. Public must be educated on the importance of lending a hand and parents must instilled and internalized good moral values on children. Misfortunes like Wang Yue’s story can be easily prevented if all the members of society are willing to work together and help each other. So are we all jerks? Maybe we are, but us and us alone can change that. Don’t just give up on your morality. Be a Good Samaritan.

The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”  Ralph Waldo Emerson-


Aronson,E., & Akert, R.M. (2007). Social psychology. London: Pearson.

Baron, R.A. & Byrne, D.E. 1998. Social psychology: understanding human interaction. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

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