Open Book History

The Devil Complex: A Closer look at Conformity and the Bystander Effect

As I sat there behind my desk uninterestingly flipping through emails on my phone, a blind classmate entered the room, guide dog in tow. As she helplessly fumbled, tripped on her own feet and headed to the wrong desk, the classmates present just watched. To my dismay, five minutes had passed; five minutes I sat voiceless, watching with the rest of them. For five minutes I refused to help because after all, no one else was. It was the realization that, while researching the Holocaust and how Hitler could have had such an impact on his men to where they would commit systematic murder and then defend it with, “We did what we were told,” or, “We did it because the extermination of the ‘imperfect’ race was the duty of all Germans,” was the same principle of conformity exhibited by myself and my classmates. Although our indiscretion was on a small scale compared to Nazi Germany, the idea that anyone could be affected by this, is frightening. In comparison to the Nazi’s, I had also heard about another unfortunate case highlighting the bystander effect and the power of conformity. In the 1960’s a woman was stabbed on a New York street. The dozens of tenants living in the lofts and apartments above the crime scene stood at their windows, witnesses to the crime. Although they heard the woman's scream, no one tried to help or intervene. The women ran around the corner where she was stabbed eight more times by the attacker before lying dead on the sidewalk. There were thirty seven witnesses to the crime; only one passer-byer called for help after it was too late.