What Effect Does Appearance Have On Bystander Effects Psychology Essay


Previous empirical studies have evaluated and confirmed that bystander effect or intervention does occur regularly and intentionally within participants. However, conclusive evidence has not been gathered to showing a direct link caused by appearance. This study evaluates the effects appearance and group size has on the phenomena of bystander effects. Eighty male participants aged 18 years – 30 years of age were recruited to experiment the outcomes achieved when confronted by either an attractive or non attractive clothed confederate seeking assistance. It’s hypothesized that when faced with an attractive victim, participants would offer help more often than compared to a non attractive victim. Group size was also manipulated to see if results differed to the hypothesis that being alone would result in quicker helping times compared to that of being in a group.

What effect does appearance and group size have on bystander effects?

The study into bystander effect (intervention) is an intriguing area of research which was brought about from the much documented murder of Kitty Genovese in 1964. According to researchers the inactions of 38 witnesses who heard and saw the ½ hour prolonged sexual assault and murder of Kitty Genovese, yet didn’t take any personal steps to intervene was an area of interest that needed further explaining (Darley & Latane, 1968; Finkel & Moghaddam, 2005; Latane & Rodin, 1969).

Early studies by Latane and Rodin (1969) found that when presented with a scenario of helping a fellow human in distress, whether to help and intervene was dependent on many factors. However the most important factor that became evident was that when a person was by himself, they are more compelled to offer assistance than when they are part of a group. Researchers termed this behavior as what is known today as bystander effects. The bystander effect in their study was tested by recording participants reactions to a mock scenario of a person in distress in an adjacent room. They found that when paired up with another person in the room, only 7% of the participants investigated the distress of the person next door. This was contrastingly different to when a person was left alone in a room and 70% of the participants investigated the distress next door (Latane & Rodin, 1969). These results concurred with an earlier study conducted by Darley and Latane (1968) who similarly found that, when presented with a person who was suffering a suspected epilepsy fit in a closed off adjacent room, 85% of participants alerted the experimenter to the emergency when they believed they were alone compared to only 31% who perceived bystanders were present and also witnessing the emergency.

According to Darley and Latane (1968) and concurred by Garcia, Weaver, Moskowitz, and Darley (2002), when presented with other bystanders in a time of distress or emergency, a diffusion of responsibility develops within a person. That is, in the presence of other potential helpers being located in the vicinity, the responsibility to offer assistance decreases and left to others. Another influential outcome they discovered was termed pluralistic ignorance. This is a misguided conformity by an individual to the reactions of bystanders around them. An individual when looking towards others for scenario evaluation could incorrectly dismiss the urgency of a situation by the inattentions or unconcern displayed by those standing nearby.

According to Milgram and Hollander (1964, as cited in Darley & Latane, 1968) reasoning for individuals accepting the responses of the bystanders can be explained by issues that the individual may experience in decision making. They might experience fear or public embarrassment due to their actions, along with the belief of possible future repercussions such as police statements, lost days from work for court appearance and other unforeseen circumstances.

Although past studies have concentrated predominantly on the scenario of people helping when alone or part of a group, few studies have evaluated what effect the victim’s appearance has on bystander intervention. A study by Keasey and Tomlinson-Keasey (1971, as cited in Suedfeld, Bochner, & Matas 1971) found that when collecting signatures for a petition, a collector who dressed conventionally in modern attire collected more signature than a collector who wore hippie style unconventional attire. They also found participants tended to avoid the hippie dressed collector on more occasions. Contrastingly though, a similar study conducted by Suedfeld, Bochner, and Matas (1971) found in their case hippie dressed confederates collected more signatures than conventional dressed participants.

This contradiction was further supported by Emswiller, Deaux, and Willits (1971) who found that when participants were confronted by a confederate victim asking for money, an unconventionally dressed hippie was assisted on more occasions than one dressed conventionally. However their study established that when making the decision to help, participants evaluated similarities and differences between themselves before offering or not offering assistance. This point of checking similarities between the participant and victim confirmed similar results obtained by Webb, Campbell, Schwartz, & Sechrest (1966, as cited in Emswiller, Deaux, & Willits 1971) who conducted studies and found using clothing which appeared unconventional and “sloppy” was used as a method to rate a person’s personality by those who observed him.

A study conducted by Piliavin, Rodin, and Piliavin (1969) tested appearance on a behavioural level of either being ill or drunk. They found that when the subject appeared ill, assistance was offered to them on more occasions than when a person appeared to be drunk. Schopler and Matthews (1965, as cited in Piliavin, Rodin, & Piliavin 1969), stated a common belief shared by many is that a person who appears to be intoxicated is responsible for their plight and therefore doesn’t deserve help. This lack of sympathy leads to assistance being offered less often in these circumstances than to those who are seen as not being responsible for their plight, such as the confederate who used a cane. Sarbin (1954 as cited in Emswiller, Deaux, & Willits 1971) further commented that when comparing men’s’ and women’s’ attitudes on others physical appearance, men generally paid more attention to a confederate’s physical appearance before offering help.

Due to these disparities in offering assistance based on physical appearance, this study has been developed to test 4 different sets of hypotheses. (i) Victims who are found to be attractive will be assisted on more occasions than those found to be non attractive. (ii) The time taken to help an attractive victim will be quicker than time taken to help non attractive victim. (iii) Time taken to help an attractive victim while an individual is alone will be quicker than when in the presence of bystanders. (iv) Individuals in the alone condition will help a non attractive victim quicker, than a non attractive victim in the presence of others. Appearance and attractiveness refers to the clothing and personal grooming displayed rather than sexual appearance.



Participants will comprise of 80 voluntary male participants that phone and enquire about the mock exam stress study. To avoid age differences being a confounding variable, a narrow age bracket of 18 – 30 years has been chosen. Female participants were ineligible for the study to avoid gender being a confounding variable. The participants are not aware to the true nature of study and will be equally allocated to 1 of the following 4 scenarios with 20 participants in each. Participants will be allocated to either (a) an attractive victim – alone scenario, (b) an attractive victim – group scenario, (c) a non attractive victim – alone scenario and (d) a non attractive victim – group scenario.


The experimenters’ confederate victim will use folders and books to illustrate the purpose of carrying too many items to open a door successfully. The victim will also use conventional female’s business suit with well personal grooming for the attractive scenario while black ripped jeans, black punk style top, chain style belt and a removable bright dyed hair for the non attractive scenario. Experimenter will use a stop watch, pen and clipboard with paper for result taking.


The study will incorporate a single blind study consisting of a 2 X 2 full factorial between groups design as displayed in figure 1.

Appearance (Level 1) Attractive – Professional Non attractive – Punk

Group Size (Level 2) Alone Group of 5 Alone Group of 5

Figure 1. 2 X 2 full factorial between groups study design.

The study consists of 2 IV levels being tested. First level of the IV is the appearance of the victim, either an attractive conventional dressing versus non attractive unconventional dressing. The second IV is the group size of alone or with a group of 5 other confederates. Both levels of the IV will be experimenter manipulated with the experimenter deciding which of the 4 scenarios a participant gets allocated to. The dependent variable consists of 2 measurements. Firstly, DV1 is whether participants offer assistance to the victim by physically helping, while DV2 is the time taken for participants to offer assistance.

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As appearance is subjective, a pilot study will be conducted to establish what is considered to be the norm for an attractive and non attractive appearance. Questionnaire was given to 20 people to rate their response on a 5 point Likert scale to questions related to attitudes, constituting an attractive and non attractive type of clothing and general appearance. Results establish the costume and looks used in the manipulation of the IV of appearance.


Notices will be put in strategic university hot spots advertising the study details and a contact phone number. Upon contact by interested parties, a brief and deceptive study scenario will be given explaining that as part of future “coping with university life” campaigns, participants will be asked questions regarding exam coping techniques they have used in the past. It will also be explained that participation in the study will be kept confidential.

Participants will be explained of their rights to withdraw from the experiment at any stage including during the study. Participants will be offered specific study times scheduled throughout the day at 9am – 10am, 3pm – 4pm, and 6pm – 7pm. Upon choosing a time, participants will be given a room number to come to for the mock study. At these study times the mock study room along with adjacent rooms will be booked to the experimenter so that other students can’t contaminate the study. Participants will be explained depending on times chosen by other participants there may be other people at the session time with them. Final comment of seeing them on the day will end the call.

Experimenter will randomly allocate each person to any of the 4 conditions tested however if allocated to a group condition all other members present will be confederates. For study purposes, 5 additional confederates will be sufficient to initiate the group scenario.

Setting up of condition

Alone condition with conventional or unconventional clothing: Participants should be waiting outside the particular room as mentioned on the phone. Upon seeing participant, the assistance seeking confederate (ASC) will walk to an adjacent room carrying their belongings and be dressed in the appropriate outfit for the scenario (conventional or unconventional dressing). It will be obvious that the ASC is carrying too many objects to be capable of opening the door.

Group condition with conventional or unconventional clothing: Two confederates should be waiting outside the mock study room. Upon participant arriving, remaining 3 confederates are to arrive and wait outside room. These confederates are in no way to assist the ASC during the study. The ASC will walk to an adjacent room carrying their belongings and will be dressed in the appropriate outfit for the scenario (conventional or unconventional dressing). It will be obvious that the ASC is carrying too many objects to be capable of opening the door.

Subsequent procedures after setting up area for all 4 conditions: When the ASC arrives at the room, the experimenter who will be watching from a hidden location down the corridor will start timing. The ASC will attempt to open the door showing difficulty for about 20 seconds than drop books and files. The ASC will than attempt to pick them up and if the participant has not assisted by this stage, the ASC will drop folders again. After a second attempt at opening door for about 20 seconds while holding everything, the ASC will drop everything again. If the participant has not assisted this time the ASC will open the door first and take belonging in and close door. At this point the experiment will stop timing and record the experiment as non-assisting. At any stage if a participant helps by coming and opening door, the experimenter will stop timing and count study as being assisted and the time recorded.

In all 4 scenarios to end the study, the ASC will come back out and call for those people who are there for the exam stress study. Obviously the participant will be the only one that goes in followed by the experimenter. The experimenter will than introduce himself and the ASC and debrief participants on the study.

Ethical implications and debriefing: Participants will be explained that the true nature of the study has already taken place. They will be explained about prior bystander effect studies and how this study was an addition to previous studies and was focused on the outcomes the victims appearance and group size had on participants response to helping. They will be explained that this was a deceptive study to see the true actions of participants based on what they saw and why it was important the experimenter hadn’t revealed this in initial conversation.

Participants will be assured personal actions were not being ridiculed rather what effects appearance and group size had on them. Participants will be asked if they were happy to allow the use of the data collected and if approved sign participation consent forms. Participants will be offered the results of the final study and assured the results will be destroyed once the study is complete. Participants will once again be thanked for their time in being part of the study and then free to go.


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