Responsibility and its Diffusion

Diffusion of Responsibility: Each bystander's sense of responsibility to help decreases as the number of witnesses increases

The Diffusion of Responsibility is a very wide topic and involves many sub categories including:
  • The Bystander Effect: The likelihood of a person offering help decreases as the number of observers present increases (Ex: A person yelling for help and no one helping because they think someone else will help).
  • Groupthink: In a group of people who, through action or inaction, allow events to occur which they would never allow if they were alone
  • De-individuation: A psychological state of decreased self-evaluation, causing anti-normative and disinhibited behavior:

The diffusion of responsibility is simply spreading responsibility among a large group of people. This spreading of responsibility, results in groups of people feeling like they have no responsibility, which allows them to do things they wouldn't do if they were alone. For example in the murder of Kitty Genovese, many of her neighbors heard her screams yet no one intervened or called the police. This specific incidence spurred research on the diffusion of responsibility and the bystander effect. John Darley, and Bibb Latané conducted experiments in the late 60's which concluded that when people are in larger groups (more than three people) they tend to take more time to respond to extreme situations, and 70% of the time do not report the incidence. On the other hand when people are alone, only 15% do not report the incidence and people react much faster than when they are in a group.

Here we have a nice video featuring the ever entertaining Dr. Philip Zimbardo, it focuses on the diffusion of responsibility and the Bystander Effect.

In this video clip we see how Groupthink can effect the decisions of some people and therefore diffuse the responsibility among many.

Finally, this video clip it is possible to see how being in a large group of people makes people think that they are not responsible for their actions, allowing them to do things they would never do alone. Here people at a concert are rowdy and start throwing bottles and such around without caring if they might injure others.

This is a link to do some more exploring about the topic:

NHS Example: One example of the diffusion of responsibility is talking in class. If one person is talking in class, they feel like they are doing something wrong because they are interrupting the teacher and the class. But when the entire class is talking, an individual is okay with talking because everyone else is doing it therefore the responsibility of disrupting the teacher and the class does not fall only on the individual, it falls on the entire class.