"There are a number of classic experiments and theories that every psychology
student learns about, but more recent research has questioned their findings so
that psychologists today are reevaluating human nature.
One example is Philip Zimbardo’s 1971 Stanford prison experiment, in which 24
participants were randomly separated into groups of would-be prisoners and
guards. Within days, the research recorded that the guards were mistreating the
prisoners, who began to display signs of distress. The abuse and distress
became seemed so acute the experiment had to be curtailed after six days.
Another classic psychological theory is the “bystander effect,” which suggests
that people are reluctant to help out in emergency situations if others are
nearby. This theory dates back to 1964, when a woman was raped and murdered in
the early morning in New York.
It was reported that 38 people witnessed the attack, without intervening.
According to the bystander effect, the more people that witness an event, the
less likely a person is to intervene, since responsibility becomes more
Such theories and studies from the 1960s and 1970s implied that the “evil”
sides of our character lie just below our civilised surface, while the moral
and altruistic side is a thin veneer. They encouraged a view that human beings
are essentially callous and selfish. The problem is that the findings of these
experiments have now been contested and even discredited by other researchers.
Recent research found the cruelty of Zimbardo’s prison guards didn’t emerge
spontaneously; some behaviour was encouraged. Some of the “prisoners” later
admitted that they were pretending to be distressed.
Similarly, a study published in 2007 found that the 1964 incident that inspired
the theory of the bystander effect was distorted. According to the paper,
archive material shows far fewer people witnessed the incident than was
reported at the time, and some people could only hear screams, without seeing
the location of the incident. At least one person did try to intervene.
Recent research indicates that bystanders are much more likely to intervene
than the theory suggests. A 2019 study of 219 violent situations from cities
around the world caught on CCTV showed that bystanders – not just one, usually
several – intervened to help victims 90% of the time.
The study also found that the more people were present, the more likely
passers-by were to intervene. In the words of the study’s lead researcher,
Richard Philpot: “It shows that people have a natural inclination to help when
they see someone in need.”"
Via Muse, who wrote "Fascinating article about new research into human
*** Xanni ***
Chief Scientist, Xanadu
Partner, Glass Wings
Manager, Serious Cybernetics