Friday, September 10, 2021

Helping behavior, bystander intervention, violence, emergency, danger, systematic video observation

Does Danger Level Affect Bystander Intervention in Real-Life Conflicts? Evidence From CCTV Footage. Marie Rosenkrantz Lindegaard et al. Social Psychological and Personality Science, September 9, 2021.

Abstract: In real-life violence, bystanders can take an active role in de-escalating conflict and helping others. Recent meta-analytical evidence of experimental studies suggests that elevated danger levels in conflicts facilitate bystander intervention. However, this finding may lack ecological validity because ethical concerns prohibit exposing participants to potentially harmful situations. Using an ecologically valid method, based on an analysis of 80 interpersonal conflicts unobtrusively recorded by public surveillance cameras, the present study confirms that danger is positively associated with bystander intervention. In the presence of danger, bystanders were 19 times more likely to intervene than in the absence of danger. It extends this knowledge by discovering that incremental changes in the severity level of the danger (low, medium, and high), however, were not associated with bystander intervention. These findings confirm the importance of further investigating the role of danger for bystander intervention, in larger samples, and involving multiple types of real-life emergencies.

Keywords: helping behavior, bystander intervention, violence, aggression, emergency, danger, systematic video observation

The results provide support for a discrete effect of danger on bystander intervention. The odds of bystander intervention are 19 times higher when conflict parties display targeted aggression than when they do not. This result is in line with theories of altruism and prosocial behavior that suggest that increases in potential harm motivate bystander interventions. It is also in line with studies suggesting that the urgency of the need for help facilitates intervention. However, we also found that the aggression intensity level did neither facilitate nor deter bystander intervention. Serious forms of aggression were not more likely to provoke bystander intervention than minor forms of aggression. This finding runs counter the idea that increased danger boosts the motivation to intervene because nonintervention might be experienced as a too high cost in serious danger situations. It also runs counter the idea that increased danger reduces the bystanders’ motivation to intervene for fear being of harmed themselves in the act of intervention. A potential explanation for the absence of overall aggression intensity effect in our findings is that the two mechanisms that stimulate and deter intervention in response to danger might cancel out. According to this argument, increasing danger raises the benefits of intervention by reducing victim harm, while simultaneously raising the costs of intervention by increasing bystander harm. In nonexperimental conflict situations, danger affects the risks for victims and bystanders alike. Therefore, our observational data cannot disentangle both mechanisms. Another, less substantive but possible, the explanation is that our observational design lacks the statistical power to identify the effects of low and high aggression levels because these levels occur infrequently in the data (eight intervals with low aggression and seven intervals with high aggression) whereas medium aggression is much more common (45 instances of medium aggression). A larger sample size would be needed to identify potential effects of low and high aggression levels and to also demonstrate differences in the effects sizes of all three aggression levels.

Our within-person design rules out all stable between-person and between-situation confounders as explanations for these mixed results but unobserved time-varying factors such as, for example, changes in the communication of urgency could play a role. We found no moderating effect of the number of bystanders present, preexisting social relationships, and gender on the effect of danger on bystander intervention. In Amsterdam, interveners responded more strongly to variation in aggression level than in Cape Town. Future studies should consider the effect size of danger compared to stable personal and situational characteristics of conflict situations, for example, evaluate the extent to which bystander intervention is driven by dynamic or stable factors. They should also consider whether the danger has a different confounding effect on different kinds of individuals (e.g., Do people with low self-control vs. high self-control respond similarly to danger?) and in different kinds of situations (e.g., Does danger also facilitate bystander intervention in, for example, robberies and sexual assaults).

A limitation of our aggression-level measures is that they are objective physical actions and exclude verbal communications. Obviously, bystanders respond to subjective impressions, and their actions may be driven by expectations based on threats or other verbal expressions that we could not capture and thus could not code as aggression. Future studies might improve on the measurement of aggression by using footage that includes sound, for example, from body-worn camera footage, and by considering the communication of urgency other than aggression. Another limitation of our study is that we operationalize bystander intervention to physical actions aimed at stopping the conflict, while bystanders engage in nonphysical intervention behavior too, including more indirect ways of intervening such as phoning the police. Future work could also improve our test of the effect of danger on bystander intervention by including more high-intensity cases (in the current study, we only had seven incidents in which the highest aggression level was observed), for example, those with visible injuries or use of weapons. Future studies should consider the role of danger for various types of bystander intervention behavior.

In summary, we conclude that bystanders are more likely to intervene when danger is present than when danger is absent but that there is not enough evidence to conclude that the intensity of the danger makes their intervention either more or less likely.

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