Abstract: Half a century of research on bystander behavior concludes that individuals are less likely to intervene during an emergency when in the presence of others than when alone. By contrast, little is known regarding the aggregated likelihood that at least someone present at an emergency will do something to help. The importance of establishing this aggregated intervention baseline is not only of scholarly interest, but is also the most pressing question for actual public victims—will I receive help if needed? The current paper describes the largest systematic study of real-life bystander intervention in actual public conflicts captured by surveillance cameras. Using a unique cross-national video dataset from the United Kingdom, Netherlands, and South Africa (N = 219), we show that in nine-out-of-ten public conflicts, at least one bystander, but typically several, will do something to help. We record similar likelihoods of intervention across the three national contexts, which differ greatly in levels of recorded violent crime. Finally, we find that increased bystander presence is related to a greater likelihood that someone will intervene. Taken together these findings allay the widespread fear that bystanders rarely intervene to help. We argue that it is time for psychology to change the narrative away from an absence of help and towards a new understanding of what makes intervention successful or unsuccessful.
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