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J Pers Soc Psychol. 1979 Oct;37(10):1822-34.

Emergencies: what are they and do they influence bystanders to intervene?


Social psychological research on helping has, in part, been concerned with the intervention of bystanders into emergencies. Pertinent empirical literature does not seem to be available on what factors bystanders use to define an emergency nor the effect of such a decision on the rate of helping. A series of four studies was conducted to answer these questions. We found that (a) Emergencies are a subclass of problem situation that usually result from accidents; (b) there is a high degree of agreement concerning what problem situations are definitely an emergency; (c) emergency situations are differentiated from other problem situations by threat of harm or actual harm worsening with time, unavailability of an easy solution to the problem, and necessity of obtaining outside help to solve the problem; (d) disagreement on whether a problem situation is an emergency or not results from differing perceptions of the degree to which threat of harm or actual harm worsens with time; (e) bystanders are more likely to help in emergency than in nonemergency problem situations. The results were interpreted as indicating that the need of the victim is a salient feature used by bystanders in determining whether or not to help.

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