Helping Behaviors



Race of victim, nonresponsive bystanders and helping behavior



Helping Behaviors



The purpose of the study "Race of Victim, Nonresponsive bystanders and helping behavior" by Gaertner, Dovidio and Johnson (1982), was to evaluate helping behavior of white, female subjects responding to an emergency situation. There were three independent variables including race, presence of bystanders and racial attitudes. 43 female college students were placed into one of two possible conditions (being alone, presence of others) and measured on response time in a staged, videotaped emergency situation. Results showed that victims, regardless of race, were helped more quickly when the subjects perceived they were the only witness to the event. Subjects with high ratings of prejudice had a longer response time to black victims. [there is a sentence missing here-what do you think it should be?] This study will be redesigned in order to include geographical and cultural differences, male subjects and victims and a more realistic emergency situation. The study should consider the effect of the race of the subject and also the effect of the physiological stress response on subjects.

Helping Behaviors


Race of victim, nonresponsive bystanders, and helping behavior

Research done by Gaertner, Dovidio and Johnson (1982) evaluated the responsiveness of white bystanders in an emergency situation to black and victims. The subjects were observed in a room alone or with nonresponsive bystanders present. The victims race was varied between white and black while the subject's race (white) remained constant. The dependent variables included length of time for the subject to engage in helping behaviors in both settings (alone, bystanders) and changes in heart rate (level of arousal). Results showed that subjects, especially those who rated high on a prejudice test, had an increased response time for black victims as compared to white victims. The presence of nonresponsive bystanders increased the response time of subjects to black victims. When the subjects thought they were alone, response time for black and white victims was equal. [this paragraph represents a concise summary of the study being criticized--however, something is missing (statement of hypotheses). It is a good description of the variables involved and the results]

There are several problems with the study's design. The first problem involves the sex of the subjects and the victims. This study uses 43 white females as subjects. Males, as well as females need to be studied in both the roles of victims and subjects in order to apply the results of this study to the general population. [valid criticism-but it doesn't stop there-be sure to develop and say why-how would the results be different if the sample included males:] Males an females may respond differently to emergency situations because of cultural and societal expectations and influences on the helping or rescuer role. For example, males are indoctrinated into a "white knight" role for victims, especially for female victims. Females are often indoctrinated into a passive role. Therefore, female subjects' response time may be increased relative to male subjects' response time. [you see how this student expanded the criticism]

The race and cultural background of the subjects and victims needs to be broadened to include representatives from other races and cultures (Hispanic, Asian, Native American, Arabic, etc.) For example, there are significant differences between how a traditional Islamic female responds to a Caucasian male in an emergency situation as compared to a liberated female. A traditional Islamic female is indoctrinated into a submissive role from birth and therefore could be expected to have an increased response time. [see again, how the criticism has been expanded]

The study's authors assert that their physiological findings support their hypothesis that the victim's race affected the bystanders' responsiveness in an indirect manner. They linked this to the subjects susceptibility to conform with pressures not to intervene. The greater the hart rate of subjects alone, the more quickly the subjects intervened. For the subjects in the presence of non-helping bystanders, the greater the heart rate, the longer the response time. However, the actual change in heart rate in the situations was not significant: subjects in the presence of others increased their heart rate by 1.4 beats per minute; subjects alone increased their heart rate by 5.9. There are other explanations for the data including physical changes and racial and cultural differences in arousal. A change in heart rate of 1.4 beats per minute is possible with a mere change in position; the change of 5.9 beats per minute could have been observed with the subject walking into the other room. Therefore the changes in heart rates may have been caused by factors other than the independent variable. [see how the student criticizes the study for a potential confound]

One final criticism of the study involves the manner in which the emergency situation as presented to subjects. Rather than have the emergency situation played out immediately in front of subjects, they viewed a videotape of the emergency on a television screen. This may have diluted the impact of the emergency and therefore, caused a change in the response time. [see how the student criticizes the study for a potential confound]

The purpose of the redesigned study will be to test the response time of subjects when placed in an emergency situation. The study will include a larger number of subjects with the goal of obtaining racial diversity and cross-cultural data. Furthermore, the study will involve face-to-face emergency situations in order to create a more realistic situation. Heart rate and breathing rate devices will be set up under false pretenses to reduce demand characteristics.



Two hundred undergraduate from a large state supported university were selected for participation. The students were prescreened in an introductory level psychology course. Participation was strictly voluntary and subjects were awarded course credit. The ages of subjects ranged from 18-23. [the student criticized diversity of the sample, but did not indicate how many of the sample came from ethnically diverse populations--don't forget to address everything brought up in the criticisms]


The subjects were first given a prejudice scale. Those scoring on the high end (extreme prejudice) were selected for participation as well as those score on the low end (low prejudice). During the first half of the semester, the students were placed via random selection in a laboratory setting on an individual or group basis (group composed of confederates who were told to be nonresponsive to the emergency) and asked to complete a questionnaire on cooperativeness. The subjects were naive, in that they did no know that they were actually participating in a study of helping behavior. While in the lab setting, subjects were exposed to a staged heart attack of one of the group members (actually a confederate) and the helping behaviors of the subject was measured along with changes in heart and respiratory rates. [note how one criticism was that the emergency was not in real life, and how the study was redesigned to incorporate that] The heart attack victim's race, gender and culture was varied. [again--this redesign reflected one of the criticisms] Each subject was hooked up to bio-feedback instruments, believing that heir physiological changes were being measured to determine how much they wanted to cooperate. The instruments were actually measuring heart and respiratory rates prior to, during and after the event. [again--this redesign reflected one of the criticisms] The mean scores of all three conditions were calculated and compared between the groups scoring low and high in prejudice. [note whether there were any criticisms made that were not addressed in the redesign--make sure you do not make such a mistake--if it's criticized by you, redesign it--if you're not going to redesign it, don't criticize it]


The prejudice scale consisted of 25 questions on a Likert-type five-point scale, with 5 being "always" and 1 being "never". The test measured the degree to which subjects thought of themselves as be prejudiced. Sample questions included: "Do you have friends of different racial backgrounds than yourself?" and "Does it bother you to associate with members of another ethnicity than yourself".

Standardized biofeedback equipment was used to measure the physiological responses of the subjects.


     Gaertner, S. L., Dovidio, J. F., & Johnson, G. (1982).  Race of
victim, nonresponsive bystanders and helping behavior.  The Journal
of Social Psychology, 117, 69-77.