Local 6 News in Orlando recently conducted a test to see how quickly people would respond to a crime. They arranged for an undercover police officer to pretend to be a burglar trying to break into cars and homes in plain view of bystanders. The results
most bystanders ignored or just watched the crime -- and some even helped the thieves...
people were ready to help the mystery man break into a car.
A third test had the fake burglar enter a home through a window and then go out the front door. During the staged crime, some golfers gave a friendly wave and a technician ignored the incident.
These results aren't surprising. Psychologists have long been aware of the "unresponsive bystander"
effect. Witnesses to medical emergencies or crimes often do nothing, either because they assume someone else will do something, or because they fail to correctly interpret the situation.
In Elephants on Acid
I describe an experiment that was conducted at Columbia University in 1968. Subjects were led to believe they were participating in a group discussion over an intercom system, with each participant sitting in a separate cubicle. Suddenly they heard one of the other participants having an epileptic seizure. The seizure was fake, but the subjects couldn't know that, and most of them did nothing to help, because they assumed someone else would help.