An Urban Legend That Changed the Way We Think
January 31st, 2008

Over four decades ago, the New York Times reported on a woman in Kew Gardens, Queens, named “Kitty” Genovese who had been murdered in the plain sight of witnesses who did nothing until she was dead. The story was so powerful, it led to the development of the theory called the “bystander effect,” which says that people in groups may not act because they assume somebody else will. The Times article is featured prominently in psychology text books covering the subject.

But the account as told by the Times is “not supported by the available evidence,” according to a study by researchers from Lancaster University and the University of West England. The Atlantic Monthly wrote about it in their most recent issue, but the study is over a year old. A local historian from Kew Gardens found significant inaccuracies in the article as well.

By on January 31, 2008, 11:11 am
In category: Crime & Safety | 4 Comments »

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4 Responses to “An Urban Legend That Changed the Way We Think”

  1. Larry Littlefield Says:
    January 31st, 2008 at 2:25 pm

    Not long ago I found one of the city’s bike racks lying on the sidewalk, as a trip hazard, on Fifth Avenue, after someone had knocked it down. I called the city official in charge, and he said he didn’t have anyone to pick it up immediately. He asked if I would ask a storeowner nearby to set it aside until he could come get it, so no one would be hurt.

    I spent an hour asking (and had to stay an hour late to finish my work BTW). No one would take it.

    None of the stores. (One said he wouldn’t take city property because a city inspector was coming and he didn’t want to get in trouble).

    Not even the Post Office (“we’re federal, not city”).

    The local firehouse! refused to take a piece of NYC property so that no one would get hurt.

    I leaned the “Kitty Genovese bike rack” out of the way against a clock, the official was able to get here in and take it before it was stolen or someone got hurt.

    Urban legend?

  2. An urban legend that changed the way we think | SUPERNATURAL NEWS Says:
    January 31st, 2008 at 6:13 pm

    […] From Mike Muller gothamgazette.com: Over four decades ago, the New York Times reported on a woman in Kew Gardens, Queens, named “Kitty” Genovese who had been murdered in the plain sight of witnesses who did nothing until she was dead […]

  3. Drew King Says:
    February 1st, 2008 at 7:55 am

    Last week I was walking down Madison heading to GCT when an older man tripped on a curb, face first. I was a block away and people streamed by ignoring the poor guy. I helped him up. The interesting part was after I stopped and started to help him, 2 other people then stopped to help.
    New York City is its own little world with rules and processes that just don’t happen elsewhere (or at least not on the grand scale that they do here). Tis the nature of the beast

  4. FrankAPC. Says:
    February 1st, 2008 at 11:34 am

    The bystander effect applies to city agencies, too. I have a mound of fallen branches sitting outside my home in Bay Ridge Brooklyn now since one of the autumn wind storms, months ago. Repeated calls to the 311 bureau have been fruitless. The branches remain. They’re too big for sanitation (who would have me cut them up and store them a certain way because of the beetle thing), and Parks cannot be reached directly for the shield provided by 311. More than once I’ve had to explain to neighbors that Sanitation or Parks would be by, but they never come. So, are my neighbors in this case, like the city agencies referenced above, also guilty of being a part of the bystander effect? Shouldn’t they take action on their own if they see these fallen branches needing attention? Or should they leave it to me to deal with, and in the process become familiar with on a personal level, those dependable folks at 311?

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