The Genovese Syndrome


No it is not a science fiction title, nor a new medical syndrome. It is a famous case in Social Psychology.

Catherine Genovese; a 28 years old female in New York  She was stabbed and murdered by an unknown assailant after being sexually assaulted. The horrific crime had lasted half an hour, reportedly been witnessed by 38 neighbours and during this time no-one had called the police. This case is regarded as the catalyst for what is called the Bystander Behaviour.

Oh my God he stabbed me ,  Please help me please help me  were the shouts of Cathy .. neighbors turned their lights on.. some said Hey let that girl alone. The assailant ran away, Cathy walked to the lobby of the building.. he followed her.

He stabbed her again and once more Catherine shouted out, ‘I’m dying! I’m dying!’ Again, many of her neighbours heard her screams.
As the murderer said later, ‘I came back because I knew I’d not finished what I set out to do.’ He proceeded to sexually assault her and leave her for dead. In all, the attack had lasted 32 minutes. During this time, it was reported that none of the witnesses had telephoned the police.

The case is fascinating aspect of the case; No one of the witnesses called the police during the assault, one did call but AFTER Catherine was dead to report the incident.

Latane and Darley

Latane and Darley are two psychologists who studied the bystander effect.  Latané and Darley wondered whether it was precisely because there were so many witnesses to the murder that no-one helped. The first explanation they proposed is called ‘pluralistic ignorance’. It is suggested that, in ambiguous situations, people look to others for help as to what to do (social reality). In an emergency situation, if all the other bystanders are also uncertain and looking for guidance, then looking to others can produce the wrong guidance,sometimes resulting in no action at all. If no one else is helping, then this can’t be an emergency.

If there are lots of people present, then a so-called ‘diffusion of responsibility’ occurs whereby each person feels less responsible for dealing with the emergency. This was their second finding.

A combination of diffusion of responsibility and pluralistic ignorance probably explains why the Genovese bystanders behaved as they did. Presumably they believed that, since nobody else was reacting as if there were an emergency, it probably was not an emergency. Furthermore, even if some of them suspected it might be an emergency, the diffusion of responsibility effect made them less compelled to take action.



6 thoughts on “The Genovese Syndrome

  1. observationofalostsoul says:

    Indeed, it is heartbreaking but it is true.. we are a selfish specie.

  2. Maha says:

    I could hardly bear reading it.
    feels like animals would have been more reactive.

    • observationofalostsoul says:

      For sure, it is shocking but it is true – the phenomenon of bystander behaviour- we rely on others to help unless we were the only ones present at the situation, and understand that it is an emergency. Sometimes we misread the information present before us and not think of the situation as a life or death situation.

      Thanks for your comment.

  3. Knee says:’s terrible what people could do ( or not do) out of sheer ignorance.
    Very interesting, I love those kinda studies ya Ammar 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

    • observationofalostsoul says:

      You’re welcome .. yes I love those cases every week we do 3 cases so ill be doing some psych related posts ma t5afeesh

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