Diffusion of responsibility

Chapter 10 discusses diffusion of responsibility—a belief that others will help someone
in need, leading to a lessened sense of individual responsibility and a lower probability
of helping. In this assignment, you will explore how diffusion of responsibility is
exhibited in a real-world setting. To conduct this demonstration, when you are at work,
on campus, or in some other public situation, act as if you need help with some minor
problem. For example, you can look around confusedly while looking at your phone or
drop something that will scatter a bit. Choose something innocuous and harmless to
yourself. Do this a couple of times: once when there are several people present and once
when there are only one or two people around.
After you complete these actions, write down your notes right away. Using your notes,
compose an essay addressing the following points.
Describe what you did and how it indicated a need for help to others.
Explain the behavioral response to the situation when many people were present and
when only a few people were present, including any differences between the two
Discuss whether the response you received fit with the textbook’s discussion of the
bystander effect. If your demonstration did not work out, explain why you think it
might not have.
Describe a behavior that may elicit an aggressive, rather than a helping, response.
Discuss whether you think the likelihood of an aggressive response would differ when
many versus few people were present. Compare this pattern of aggressive responses to
helping responses.
Draw on research from the textbook or another resource to support your answers.
Your response should be at least two pages in length. You must use at least one source
as a reference in your paper. All sources used, including the textbook, must be
referenced; paraphrased and quoted material must have accompanying citations. Please
format your paper and all citations in accordance with APA guidelines

Diffusion of responsibility

Prosocial behavior refers to actions that intend to benefit another individual or group.
Pro-social behavior is promoted by altruism, helping others for selfless reasons. Some factors
influence whether an individual will engage in prosocial behavior, including whether other
people are witnessing the incident. Though people tend to help those they see to need their
assistance, their perceived responsibility in such instances reduces when they are in the
presence of other people who could offer them help.

I carried out an experiment investigating the likelihood of receiving help with
directions in a street during the rush hour and when it seemed desolated. The street has very
low traffic in the morning; but is intensely occupied and busy during the afternoon. In the
morning, I pretended to be lost and kept pacing around, intently looking at the signboards. A
resident waiting outside a shop saw my frustrations and offered to help me with directions if I
was lost. In the afternoon, the town was swarming with people and cars. I started pacing
between two buildings and looking at the signboards. My frustration was visible to numerous
passers-by, but they kept to their business.
The experiment determined that the obligation to engage in altruistic behavior is
dependent on whether other individuals could help in their stead as concluded in the
textbook. The possibility of other people helping results in inaction by people who witness an
incident, a phenomenon called the bystander effect (Derlega & Grzelak, 2013). The more the
people there are, the lower the chances of intervention. It is easier for one to help in a crisis
when there are no witnesses or other people present.
Rather than elicit helpful reactions from an individual or group, some behaviors trigger
aggression. Behaviors attract aggression when they are deemed to be threatening to an
individual or group. For instance, getting in an individual’s personal space may trigger
agitation and aggressive reactions. In most cases, the individual may react moving backward
to retain their space. Other behaviors that elicit aggression include criticism or oppressive
treatment. Aggression is instrumental in ensuring survival and securing higher social status
and the accompanying resources.
Groups are more predisposed to aggression compared to individuals since they are
unhinged from barriers such as personal responsibility. The actions and behavior of a group
are distinctly different from those of its individual members. The individuals lose their sense

of self as they loosen personal responsibility for the undertaken actions (Paulus, 2015). The
moral responsibility for extreme actions is diffused, which then reduces the prevalence of
self-restraint, social comparison, self-evaluation.
The members of a group must conform by altering their behavior to suit the group’s
perceived needs. The desire to be a member of a group relinquishes their sense of self and
strongly motivates aggression (Paulus, 2015). The disinhibition process yields a group whose
action is not simply that of a collection of individuals. Unlike individuals, groups are more
likely to engage in hazing, teasing, and ostracism in addition to bullying and harassment.
People tend to relegate obvious responsibility to the larger group. When an individual
is in the vicinity of others as a crisis happens, their sense of responsibility towards them is
reduced. They may assume that one of the others will call for help or administer it directly
but do not feel obligated to do it themselves. This phenomenon is similar to the higher
tendency by a group to exhibit more aggression compared to an individual.


Derlega, V. J., & Grzelak, J. (Eds.). (2013). Cooperation and helping behavior: Theories and
research. Academic press.
Paulus, P. B. (2015). Psychology of group influence. Psychology Press.