From Empathy to Apathy: The Bystander Effect Revisited

Ruud Hortensius, Beatrice de Gelder

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


The bystander effect, the reduction in helping behavior in the presence of other people, has been explained predominantly by situational influences on decision making. Diverging from this view, we highlight recent evidence on the neural mechanisms and dispositional factors that determine apathy in bystanders. We put forward a new theoretical perspective that integrates emotional, motivational, and dispositional aspects. In the presence of other bystanders, personal distress is enhanced, and fixed action patterns of avoidance and freezing dominate. This new perspective suggests that bystander apathy results from a reflexive emotional reaction dependent on the personality of the bystander.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)249-256
Number of pages8
JournalCurrent Directions in Psychological Science
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2018
Externally publishedYes


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