Home » News » Bystanders Will Intervene to Help Victims of Aggression and Violence

Bystanders Will Intervene to Help Victims of Aggression and Violence

A new study finds that bystanders will intervene in nine out of 10 public fights to help victims of aggression and violence.

The findings, from the study of real-life conflicts captured by CCTV, overturn the idea that we live in a “walk-on-by society” where victims are ignored by bystanders.

A team of researchers from the University of Copenhagen, the Netherlands Institute for the Study of Crime and Law Enforcement, and Lancaster University in the UK examined video recordings of 219 arguments and assaults in the inner cities of Amsterdam, Lancaster, and Cape Town in South Africa.

The research team found that at least one bystander — but typically several — did something to help. And with increasing numbers of bystanders, there is a greater likelihood that at least someone will intervene to help, the study discovered.

“According to conventional wisdom, non-involvement is the default response of bystanders during public emergencies,” said lead author Dr. Richard Philpot of Lancaster University and the University of Copenhagen. “Challenging this view, the current cross-national study of video data shows that intervention is the norm in actual aggressive conflicts. The fact that bystanders are much more active than we think is a positive and reassuring story for potential victims of violence and the public as a whole. We need to develop crime prevention efforts which build on the willingness of bystanders to intervene.”

Security cameras in the three cities captured aggressive public conflicts. According to researchers, in 91 percent of situations, bystanders watching the incident intervened in several ways, including:

  • Physically gesturing for an aggressor to calm down;
  • Physically blocking an aggressor or pulling an aggressor away; and
  • Consoling the victim.

The research also showed that a victim was more likely to receive help when a larger number of bystanders was present.

“The most important question for the potential victim of a public assault is ‘will I receive help if needed?’ While having more people around may reduce an individual’s likelihood of helping (i.e., the bystander effect), it also provides a larger pool from which help-givers may be sourced,” Philpot said.

The study also found no difference in the rates of intervention between the three cities, even though inner-city Cape Town is generally perceived to be less safe. Researchers suggest that it is not the level of perceived danger that sets the overall rate of helping. Instead, it is any signal that the situation is a conflict and requires intervention, they said.

Source: Lancaster University

Photo: 1. On the bottom right-hand side, a man dressed in a white shirt assaults another man who is on the ground. Some bystanders observe. 2. To the bottom left-hand side, two bystanders leave their standing positions and approach the conflict parties. 3. The two bystanders are joined by others. A male bystander in a dark shirt and jeans pulls the main aggressor from his target, while a female bystander steps between the conflict parties and extends both arms out in a blocking motion. Credit: Lancaster University.

Bystanders Will Intervene to Help Victims of Aggression and Violence

Janice Wood

Janice Wood is a long-time writer and editor who began working at a daily newspaper before graduating from college. She has worked at a variety of newspapers, magazines and websites, covering everything from aviation to finance to healthcare.

APA Reference
Wood, J. (2019). Bystanders Will Intervene to Help Victims of Aggression and Violence. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 4, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 12 Jul 2019 (Originally: 12 Jul 2019)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 12 Jul 2019
Published on Psych All rights reserved.