Diffusion of responsibility
According to the dictionary of psychology diffusing of responsibility refers to the socio-psychological phenomenon whereby a person is less likely to take responsibility for an action or inaction when other people are present. The Diffusion of responsibility is largely linked to the study of the bystander effect.
A good example that would explain this scenario is as follows. A jogger taking a morning run at Central Park suddenly falls down and starts to convulse. Naturally a small group of people gather round him and start to wonder about what is going on. Maybe one or two people reach down to try and find out whether the man is alright.
Chances are none of the people present will call 911. Why? Since they are in a group no one feels personally responsible to take that task. Every other person will assume that someone else is has called the emergency line.
The Diffusion of responsibility applies greatly in the scenario where there is no clear leader or authority. When the group of people has no clear leadership structure, chances are no one will take responsibility for anything.
Back to our example. If a doctor happens to be passing by and quickly notices the emergency and the crowd already gathered. He will walk in and take control of the situation. He will find out if anyone has called the emergency line and if not he will call the number or instruct someone in the group to do so. It is only at this point that the group will realise how dangerous the bystander effect and most specifically the diffusion of responsibility is. The jogger may lose his life only because help did not arrive in time.
The Diffusion of responsibility does not necessarily indicate that the members of the group are necessarily bad people or snobs. It simply demonstrates the unconscious thought process that most people subconsciously go through. In the example above the doctor assumed leadership because of his profession. However if it were another kind of scenario say of a robber snatching an old lady’s purse, he may have similarly stayed aloof and watch the events unfold in the hope that someone will offer the old lady the help she needs.
The Diffusion of responsibility normally occurs in scenarios where there is a large group involved. It is realised in both prosocial as well as antisocial scenarios. In a prosocial scenario, the individual does not take any action because they assume that someone in the group will intervene. The individual does not feel morally obligated to do anything. In an anti social scenario individuals are likely to indulge in anti social acts when in a group than when alone. For example rowdy teenagers can cause destruction to property when in a group that when they are alone. Individuals will feel more confident when they assume that they have made a collective negative decision. If you try to find out later, you will realise that none of the individuals feel personally responsible for any negative outcome of the negative things they did as a group.
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