Monthly Archives: October 2011

Does the case of Kitty Genovese provide sufficient evidence for the ‘Bystander Effect’?


Although Case Studies have been largely criticised for being unscientific and unreliable, there are some instances where they have been incredibly beneficial to psychological theories. Classic case studies by Sigmund Freud such as Little Hans and Anna O have given psychologists information that has created what we know as psychology today. A less well known case study is that of the murder of Kitty Genovese, the findings from which were used to create and explain the ‘Bystander Effect’.

The ‘Bystander effect’ or ‘Genovese syndrome’ was theorised by John Darley and Bibb Latane in 1968 (Psychology, Eighth Edition). They focused on the case of Kitty Genovese, who was attacked and murdered near her home in Queens, New York. During her murder, many of her neighbours could hear or see her being attacked. What psychologists were interested in was why no one thought to help.

Despite what is commonly believed, larger numbers of bystanders actually decrease the likelihood of someone stepping forward to help a victim (Darley, 1968). Reasons for this are believing that others will know what to do or believing that others will help. The Kitty Genovese case thus became a classic feature of social psychology textbooks. This is a clear example of a case study offering support for a theory; the reactions of the neighbours were completely natural and not forced. Although the results cannot be replicated, they offer detail and depth which cannot be created artificially.

 However, the evidence for this study was largely based on newspaper reports from the New York Times. The American Psychologist (2007) published an examination of the factual basis of coverage of the Kitty Genovese murder in psychology textbooks. This journal concluded that the story of Kitty is more parable that fact, largely because of inaccurate newspaper coverage at the time. Even with a lack of evidence, this study is included in our social psychology textbooks today.

Feminists such as psychologist Frances Cherry (1995) have suggested that the concept of the Bystander Effect is incomplete, pointing out that people are unlikely to intervene if they believed that the argument was occurring between a man and his wife (Shotland, 1976).

Although this research has offered an insight into peoples natural reactions, a lack of control means that there is low reliabilty, and thus low validity. The results may only be representative of the people living in this certain area of New York, meaning that the findings are not generalisable to a larger population. It is clear that this case, however interesting it may be, does not provide sufficient evidence to support the bystander effect theory. Therefore, more research needs to be done in order for psychologists to further understand human behaviour.


Cherry, F. (1995) The Stubborn Particulars of Social Psychology: Essays on the research process.

Darley,J (1968) American Scientist 1969

Gleitman, H, Gross, J & Reisberg, D. (2008) Psychology, Eighth Edition. 532-533

Manning, R.; Levine, M; Collins, A (2007). “The Kitty Genovese murder and the social psychology of helping: The parable of the 38 witnesses”. American Psychologist 62 (6): 555–562.

Shotland, R. L.; Straw, M. K. (1976). Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 34: 990–9.

Genie – Research or Exploitation?


Feral Children – “lost or abandoned human children raised in extreme social isolation” (Carl Linnaeus 1758)

Genie was locked up by her father to keep her away from what he considered to be the dangers of the outside world. Strapped to a seat 24 hours a day from the age of 2 to 13, Genie missed out on imperative early attachments, turning her into a ‘feral’ child. Unable to speak or walk properly, she was for all purposes an infant trapped in the body of a 13 year old girl. (NOVA: Secret of the Wild Child Documentary)

Genie was an extremely interesting case and was considered a ‘natural experiment’. Researchers from all around the country were eager to study her, Psychologists, Psychiatrists and Linguistics all used her as a human guinea pig for studies into language development.

If participants do not refuse to be involved in studies, then is it okay for experiments to go ahead? When an ambulance is called out to an emergency, they must ask if the patient would like their help. If for any reason no answer is given then this is taken as consent. If Genie didn’t refuse the researchers, then did this make it acceptable?  Because Genie was unable to speak, she could not physically express consent. However, verbal communication wasn’t the most important part of her understanding. The APA standards for consent for a participant stress competency for understanding. (Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct). Because Genie was brought up in a situation where she was not exposed to any human language, she did not have the capacity to understand what the researchers were asking her to do. Therefore, she could not be classified as competent by any standard and subsequently should not have been used in the experiment? It is clear that Genie also suffered from extreme psychological harm after the experiments were conducted, such as refusing to open her mouth after being abused and refusing to show any interest in other people (Susan Curtiss, 1971).

Although experiments conducted on Genie offered detail into an exceptional mind, it is unclear how the research benefited society. With it being such a rare case, it is hardly representative of a wider population.  However, at the time Genie’s case had the perceived ability to reveal critical insights into language development and linguistics. In the 1970’s research upon this topic was so uncommon, to find Genie was a phenomenon. Genie was a prize, and it was a competition to see who would get to study her. Being a case study, this research was incredibly interesting and in depth, providing detail like no other. However, it is difficult to generalise from individual cases as each one has unique characteristics.

Ultimately, the interests of science were put before the best interests of a child. Today, this case remains famous for its interesting insights into the horrific account of an isolated child. The psychologists involved took advantage of Genie’s under developed mental state and used her for their own gain. These psychologists were later sued by Genie’s mother for outrageous and excessive testing (Russ Rymer, 1994).





1 – Carl Linnaeus 1758

2 – NOVA: Secret of the Wild Child. (Documentary about Genie), March 4, 1997

3 – American Psychological Association Guidelines, Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct.

4 – Susan Curtiss, 1977. Researcher of Genie. Psychology AS, The Complete Companion.

5 – Russ Rymer, “Genie, A scientific Tragedy” 1993


Quantitative or Qualitative methods?


“Both quantitative and qualitative data may concern thoughts and feelings or any aspect of behaviour; the difference lies in the form the data takes.” 1

This question has been at the centre of methodological debate for centuries. Whether you are interested in cold, hard facts or prefer to understand and interpret meanings, it is important to realise that one method cannot exist without the other. This is why these two different methods are vital when thinking about the ways in which we study psychology.

Quantitative methods have their philosophical roots in positivism and logical empiricism. By producing numerical data, they can show trends to reveal causal relationships between variables. Using quantitative methods such as questionnaires and structured interviews, researchers have more control over variables and are able to use large samples, which can be representative of a larger population. This kind of data can be used to create averages; using the mean, median and mode. It can also be used to visually display data in tables and graphs, making it easy to spot trends and patterns. Quantitative methods can be used to test hypotheses and produce empirical data; this is favoured by biological psychologists as it supports the idea that psychology is science.

However, these facts may all sound very impressive, but do quantitative methods and data just skim the surface? Experiments that are favoured by quantitative researchers have been criticised for being conducted in a false environment, such as a laboratory. These experiments are not natural, so are the results ecologically valid or representative? It has been argued that quantitative researchers have a narrow outlook, by oversimplifying theories and results; they ignore the thoughts and feelings of the individual.

Qualitative methods on the other hand focuses much more on depth and detail, putting much more emphasis on the individual rather than mass population. Qualitative researchers favour naturalistic and ethnographic experiments, meaning that they can observe people in their natural environment.  Rather than looking at empiricism, they concentrate much more on symbolic interactionism between people and understanding the meanings behind actions. Instead of using massive samples, qualitative researchers prefer smaller samples that are more personal instead of random e.g. a Case Study. One famous case study would be Watson and Rayners research involving Little Albert. This experiment showed much more depth and detail about phobias than any survey or questionnaire could. This experiment was natural, not artificial, and allowed the researchers to understand deeper meanings and be more subjective.

However, these natural settings mean that there is a lack of control. As the researchers are being so subjective, their presence could affect the behaviour of the participants and therefore the results. It is very difficult to generalise from qualitative data, as the samples are usually small as they are concentrated so much on the individual that they cannot represent the larger population. As these methods are so unstructured, they tend to be less reliable than quantitative data as they are harder to repeat. The fact that the data collected is non-numerical means that it is difficult to detect patterns and trends, making it harder to prove or disprove hypotheses.

Personally, I favour Qualitative methods as they focus much more on the depth and detail, and less on statistics and numbers. The results gained from qualitative methods have been proven to be more revealing and interesting, stating why rather than just giving bare facts. However, it is important to realise that these two methods are not mutually exclusive. The line between them is much less distinct than we think; to do good research the methods must be mixed and combined together.

“All qualitative data can be coded qualitatively, and all quantitative data is based on qualitative judgement.” 2



1 Psychology A2 – The Complete Companion.


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