The Loh Down On Science

Bar Fight!

How likely are we to help a total stranger?

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

A phenomenon called “The Bystander Effect” has long intrigued psychologists. It says that the bigger the crowd watching a violent attack on a stranger, the less likely anyone is to step in and help the victim. What’s behind it?

It's a hard effect to study in real life, so British researchers turned to virtual reality.

First they programmed a virtual English pub. Then they recruited forty fans of the British soccer team Arsenal to visit, one at a time. Inside, each fan witnessed a two-man altercation. Virtual bar flies looked on.

What happened? When the virtual victim wore an Arsenal T-shirt, the real participants tried to intervene. No Arsenal shirt?  Blimey!  Good luck there, mate!

The researchers say this shows we’re more likely to help someone with whom we think we have something in common.

Note to self: Wear Arsenal gear on future visits to England. And stay out of virtual pubs.  Got it!

The Loh Down on Science is produced by LDOS Media Lab, with 89.3 KPCC Pasadena, California. And made possible by the generous support of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

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