The focusing of responsibility: An alternative hypothesis in help-demanding situations


  • Revised version of a paper read at the American Sociological Association annual meeting at New Orleans, La., 1972. Appreciation is given to James Blascovich for helpful comments on an earlier draft of the paper and to Diana Warner for other help on the paper.


The ‘diffusion of responsibility’ hypothesis as an explanation of helping behavior (or lack of same) is qualified by suggesting that the hypothesis applies only in non-interacting situations. It is hypothesized that interacting groups who are aware of a help-demanding situation actually focus the responsibility and, therefore, take action as a group more rapidly than will a non-interacting group. Evidence is gathered in a contrived help-demanding situation employing a 2 × 3 (sex × condition) in which three conditions — alone, non-interacting (pseudo) groups, and interacting groups — are used. The evidence substantiates the major hypothesis. Speculation is also presented concerning the relationship of the ‘alone’ condition to the interacting and non-interacting groups and concerning sex effects.