Marco van Bommel

Promotor: prof. dr. P. van Lange, prof. dr. H. Elffers, dr. J.W. van Prooijen

With this project Marco van Bommel seeks to gain insight in the psychological processes that determine whether bystanders help or not, during an emergency, or crime. Research has shown that when many bystanders are present during an emergency, people will help less than when there are few or no bystanders. This is often called the “bystander effect”. Many studies have shown that the effect occurs in very different situations; from crime situations, street violence, to giving money to charity. The effect was even found in online chat rooms. In all those situations, the same thing happened over and over: The more people there were present, the less likely it was someone would help the needy. 

Recently, it has become clear that many social processes play an important role in the bystander effect. One could think of social categorization, (e.g. is the perpetrator of a mugging part of an out-group, or are the other bystanders part of an in-group).  In this research project Marco van Bommel will focus mainly on the role of reputation in bystander intervention. People are often afraid that intervening may damage their reputation. Especially when the situation is somewhat ambiguous, and intervention may prove unnecessary. In this case people are afraid of losing self-composure. In other cases they are just too afraid to stand out in the crowd by behaving in a way no one else does. The research is showing that the fear of reputation loss could also be used as a very powerful tool to decrease or even reverse the bystander effect. For instance, by use of cameras, people suddenly feel like they cannot hide in the crowd anymore and therefore have to intervene or lose reputation.  

Because the bystander effect occurs in so many different situations, it easily lends itself for many interesting experimental paradigms. For his first paper van Bommel mainly used a virtual chat room, where people were confronted with help requests of others who were in major distress. He varied the amount of people in the chat room from just a few “bystanders” to over thirty. In the future we will also use paradigms in the field. Actors will then enact a crime situation and unknowing bystanders will have to choose to intervene or do nothing. The possibilities to study the bystander effect are virtually endless, which makes this project very interesting.