Wellness Resource Center
Wellness Resource Center

Life is Not a Spectator Sport

life is not a spectator sport A person is a bystander when they notice a situation is wrong and they do not do or say anything. It is that gut feeling that something just isn't right. The choice is simple, do something or do nothing. At Mizzou, we are hoping to encourage an environment where everyone chooses to step up when faced with the opportunity to help a fellow Tiger. Click on a topic below for more information!


What is the bystander effect?

Definition: The term bystander effect was first coined by Darley and Latané in 1968 as the psychological phenomenon in which someone is less likely to intervene in an emergency situation when other people are present and able to help than when he or she is alone.1

Also known as bystander apathy, Genovese syndrome, diffused responsibility or bystander intervention, the bystander effect can be a barrier to us helping one another stay safe and healthy. At Mizzou, the Life is Not a Spectator Sport and Green Dot campaigns encourage students to watch out for one another.


Why would we focus on bystanders?

A person is a bystander when they notice a situation is wrong and they do not do or say anything. It is that gut feeling that something just isn't right. Every MU student will encounter many potential bystander situations while they are at Mizzou. This means everyone can be a part of making our campus a safer, healthier place. We don't have to be bystanders; we can choose to do something.


Ask yourself2:

  1. When have I been a bystander?
  2. What bothered me about this situation?
  3. What kept me from doing something?
  4. How did I feel afterwards?

Four stages of bystander behavior2:

  1. Notice the event
  2. Interpret it as a problem
  3. Feel responsible for dealing with it
  4. Possess the necessary skills to act


Why don't people intervene?

Literature says2:

  1. Diffusion of responsibility - Everyone assumes someone else will intervene. Bystanders may also think that someone else is more qualified to help. Ex: "a doctor would be more qualified to help a person with alcohol poisoning."
  2. Pluralist Ignorance - People look to others to monitor their reactions and see if they think something should be done. When everyone is watching others' reactions (and not intervening), people assume that the situation does not warrant an intervention. I.e. "no one else seems to be bothered by what is going on, so it must not really be a problem."
  3. Social influence.
  4. Fear of retaliation.
  5. Fear of embarrassment.
MU students who did not intervene when they saw a person in danger/trouble say:
  1. It's not their concern and they don't want to get involved.
  2. They don't think it's their responsibility (They are not the party police or someone's babysitter).
  3. They don't think it's a problem.
However, in a 2010 survey,
  1. 94.4% of MU students reported they would want a friend to do something if they needed help.
  2. 91.6% of MU students recently reported that they would step in and do something if a friend was drinking alcohol in a way that was harmful to his or her self.


When and how can you help?

Stepping up to help others does not have to only happen in emergencies. We can help one another make healthier choices every day. There is no effort too big or too small when it comes to taking care for one another. You could...

  1. talk to a friend that may have a problem with alcohol.
  2. encourage them to alternate alcoholic with non-alcoholic beverages when they are drinking.
  3. eat dinner with them before they go out drinking.
  4. bring them a glass of water instead of their next drink.
  5. encourage a friend to explore resources to stop smoking.
  6. offer to join them in a healthy fitness/nutrition plan.


Tips for intervening3

Here are some helpful tips for intervening:

  1. Approach everyone as a friend
  2. Do not be antagonistic
  3. Avoid using violence
  4. Be honest and direct
  5. Recruit help if necessary



1: Darley, John M.; Latane, Bibb (1968). Bystander Intervention in Emergencies: Diffusion of Responsibility. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol 8(4, Pt.1), Apr 1968, 377-383
2: Berkowitz, AD (2009). RESPONSE ABILITY: A Complete Guide to Bystander Intervention. Chicago, Beck & Company.
3: University of Oregon Division of Student Affairs. Sexual Violence Prevention and Education. Retrieved from: http://pages.uoregon.edu/asap/Get-educatedBystInter.html