Sunday, February 28, 2016

Booze, Bars, and Bystander Behavior: People Who Consumed Alcohol Help Faster in the Presence of Others

People help each other less often and less quickly when bystanders are present. In this paper, we propose that alcohol consumption could attenuate or reverse this so-called bystander effect. Alcohol impairs people cognitively and perceptually, leading them to think less about the presence of others and behave less inhibited. Moreover, alcohol makes people more prone to see the benefits of helping and not the costs. 

To provide an initial test of these lines of reasoning, we invited visitors of bars in Amsterdam to join our study at a secluded spot at the bar. We manipulated bystander presence, and at the end of the study, we measured alcohol consumption. When participants took their seats, the experimenter dropped some items. We measured how many items were picked up and how quickly participants engaged in helping. 

Results revealed that alcohol did not influence the bystander effect in terms of the amount of help given. But importantly, it did influence the bystander effect in terms of response times: people who consumed alcohol actually came to aid faster in the presence of others.

…The foremost finding from the current contribution is that alcohol does not simply attenuate the entire bystander effect, but only increases response speeds. This could imply that the influences that seriously undermine helping and intervention (such as audience inhibition, confusion and diffusion of responsibility, and pluralistic ignorance) may slow down the decision process but do not actually change it. Indeed, people under the influence of alcohol in the presence of others were at least as fast as sober people who were alone. It seems that the complications caused by the presence of bystanders in the five-step model () may simply be ignored by them. Under the influence of alcohol, people may not notice that no-one is helping and thus do not experience pluralistic ignorance before step 2. They may not think that someone else will provide help and thus may not experience diffusion of responsibility before step 3, and they may not worry about how to implement the help in step 4. Because the amount of help given remains the same, it may imply that people make their decision to act rather quickly based on the immediate situation, and then contemplate and search (in each step) for information that confirms the correctness of the decision. As drunk people are often cognitively impaired, they may be less likely to go through this process of “false deliberation” (see also )…

Full article at:

1Department of Experimental and Applied Psychology, VU University Amsterdam, Amsterdam, Netherlands
2Netherlands Institute for the Study of Crime and Law Enforcement, Amsterdam, Netherlands
3Department Psychology of Conflict, Risk, and Safety, University of Twente, Enschede, Netherlands
Edited by: Jacob B. Hirsh, University of Toronto, Canada
Reviewed by: Andrew K. Littlefield, Texas Tech University, USA; Ronald Friedman, University at Albany, SUNY, USA
*Correspondence: Marco van Bommel, ln.etnewtu@lemmobnav.m

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