Community Issues

Would You Break Up a Fight? Surprising Study Has the Answer

Cameras from 3 cities show whether people help or look the other way during trouble.


Conventional wisdom says we live in a "walk on by" society where we ignore people who need our help. Now a group of researchers says that's not true, and they have the data to prove it.

The international team studied video of public arguments or assaults from 219 closed circuit cameras in inner-city Amsterdam (Netherlands), Lancaster (UK) and Cape Town (South-Africa). They found nine-out-of-ten times, someone intervened, and the more bystanders, the more likely it was that someone did something to help.

Study found 91% of bystanders got involved.

The study is the largest ever of real-life conflicts.

"The fact that bystanders are much more active than we think is a positive and reassuring story for potential victims of violence and the public as a whole," said lead author Dr Richard Philpot.

Philpot, who teaches at Lancaster University and University of Copenhagen told a Lancaster University publication that in addition to being a comfort, the study should be food for thought for law enforcement. "We need to develop crime prevention efforts which build on the willingness of bystanders to intervene."

Researchers reviewed CCTV footage of fights and arguments in three cities to see what bystanders did.

These interventions run the gamut from physically blocking an aggressor or pulling him away from the victim, to trying to get an aggressor to calm down, to comforting the victim. The level of helping was consistent among all three cities, suggesting that "third-party conflict resolution is a human universal."

(Images: Lancaster University, Unsplash)

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