The Effects of Locus of Control on Helping Behavior and the Bystander Intervention Effect
Sponsored by Missouri Western State University Sponsored by a grant from the National Science Foundation DUE-97-51113
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The proper APA Style reference for this manuscript is:
LATHROP, T.M. (1998). The Effects of Locus of Control on Helping Behavior and the Bystander Intervention Effect. National Undergraduate Research Clearinghouse, 1. Available online at Retrieved April 25, 2017 .

The Effects of Locus of Control on Helping Behavior and the Bystander Intervention Effect
MWSC Psychology

Sponsored by: Brian Cronk (
The bystander intervention effect has been the focus of a enormous amount of research. The concept of locus of control has also had a fair amount of research. The purpose of this study was to measure the two variables in relation to each other to look for a predictable relationship. In this study, I presented a situation which would have benefited from the presence of helping behavior, and then gave subjects Rotter`s Locus of Control scale (1973). The results of a Chi Square test showed that the level of one`s locus of control did not predict the presence of helping behavior. With greater attention to some details, future researchers may still find a relationship between these two variables.

Human behavior has been a topic of numerous research projects. Two areas of great research are locus of control and the bystander intervention effect. These have both been studied indepth individually. In this study, I have combined the two topics into one study, demonstrating their relationship. For the purpose of this study, I am defining locus of control as the belief one has about his or her own "inner power" over the outcome of internal and external events. Someone with an internal locus of control believes that he or she has the power to change things by the decisions he or she makes and the actions he or she engages in. Someone with an external locus of control believes that luck, fate, or others are responsible for the outcome of events.The other factor in the study is the bystander intervention effect. This concept came into light on March 13, 1964, when Kitty Genovese was brutally attacked and eventually murdered in her own neighborhood while at least 38 bystanders watched, yet none intervened or even called the police (Rogers & Eftimades, 1995). The focus of this theory is whether or not a bystander will engage in helping behavior. There are many factors involved, some of which are group size, relationship to victim, and bystander competance level.

Studies have been done to show that within a group of bystanders, each individual is likely to diffuse responsibility to another when help is required. Latane and Darley "found that the greater the number of bystanders, the lower the likelihood of anyone helping" (as cited by Rutkowski, Gruder, & Romer, 1983).

It is believed that the bystander effect is caused by at least two processes. One is that, at first, emergencies or situations that would benefit from assistance, are often ambiguous events. One may not be sure if his or her assistance is truly needed, and he or she does not want to enter a situation that may lead to embarrassment. The second is that a bystander is less likely to help unless he or she feels a personal responsibility to do so. Therefore, if others are around, responsibility is diffused (Pantin & Carver, 1982).

Another variable in engagement of helping behavior is the relationship between the bystander and victim. If the victim is known by the subject, the likelihood of intervention is greatly increased. It has also been shown by Valentine (1980) that a relationship can be created by strangers through a gaze. It has been demonstrated that a gaze, during a time of need of assistance, will increase the likelihood of in intervention by the bystander that shared the gaze.

Intervention can also be affected if the aggressor, not the victim, is known by the bystander. This has a reverse effect and makes intervention much less likely. Another variable in this situation is the specific relationship to the aggressor. If the aggressor is a relative, the bystander is more likely to intervene than if the aggressor is a friend or an acquaintance (Tisak & Tisak, 1996).

The competance of the bystander plays a crucial role in intervening behavior, especially in an emergency situation. If the bystander has been trained in first aid or CPR, he or she is more likely to help. This is probably because increased competance will less likely lead to the embarrassment of not knowing what to do (Cramer, McMaster, Bartell, & Dragna, 1988).

This current study has been designed to locate a relationship between locus of control and the bystander intervention effect. In a correlational laboratory study, I have examined the effect that locus of control has on the bystander intervention effect, if any. I wanted to show that a person with an internal locus of control will feel that he or she can make a difference in a situation where help is needed, therefore implying responsibility. Those who choose not to help usually base their decision on the belief that their help will not truly have an impact, or will possibly have a negative impact on the situation. Those with an external locus of control may pass responsibility to someone else, or may believe that it is the victim`s fault for being in that situation, and he or she deserves it. I have hypothesized that the impact of locus of control will have an effect on intervening behavior. Specifically, I believe I will find that those with an internal locus of control will be more likely to engage in helping behavior.


I collected data for this study from 24 subjects. They were recruited from the general and intermediate psychology classes in the 1998 spring semester, and they received course credit in return for their participation. Subjects were asked to participate in return for this credit. The sample was not controlled for age, gender, race, or socioeconomic level. The education level was controlled for by recruiting from only these two undergraduate courses. I, also, controlled for the relationship between "bystander" and "victim". I, as the "victim", did not know any of the participants, so there was no established relationship.

Data was collected from subjects who were given Rotter`s Internal-External Locus of Control scale(1973). This was used to determine the subject`s locus of control. Data for the bystander intervention effect was collected on an observatory level.

After the subjects volunteered, they were asked to sign up to come in at a prearranged time at their convenience. At that scheduled meeting, they were placed in a research cubicle alone and given the Locus of Control scale (Rotter, 1973) to complete. Because this is a correlational study, there was no need to assign subjects to groups. They were told that I would give them a few minutes to complete the scale, and when finished, they were asked to return it to me in the psychology office. Before leaving, I appeared to accidentally spill a cup full of pencils onto the table near the subject. I, then, observed the subject to see if he or she assisted me in picking up the objects. I left the room at that time so that the subject could complete the scale. The observation was recorded on the scale after the subject had returned it to me.

I performed a pilot study, to see if I would encounter the ceiling effect, either all of the subjects helping or not helping. I did not have any problems with this, so I continued with my study as originally designed.

I scored each scale individually by hand using Rotter`s (1973) scoring method. I entered the data into SPSS. I entered the score of each question individually, the total score of each test, and whether or not helping behavior was present. To analyze the data in SPSS, I performed a Chi Square test. The results of this test showed that locus of control scores did not determine helping behavior (Chi Square (1)=.235, p=.628). The test illustrated that there was not a significant relationship between the two variables. For purposes of this study, a score on this scale of 0-9 is being considered an internal locus of control, and a score of 10-23 is being considered an external locus of control. There were four subjects with an internal locus of control who did not help, and seven who did, creating a total of eleven with an internal locus of control. There were six subjects with an external locus of control who did not help, and seven who did, creating a total of thirteen with an external locus of control. The split between nine and ten was determined by a median split in SPSS. The fact that the results did not show significance illustrated that this study did not show a relationship between one`s locus of control and whether or not one was likely to engage in helping behavior.

Contrary to my hypothesis, I found that one`s locus of control had no significant effect on the presence of helping behavior. This was demonstrated by the Chi Square results. I believed that there would be a relationship between one`s locus of control and its effect on presence of helping behavior. I found no literature on the comparison of these two variables, so there was no comparative data to base my hypothesis on.One reason that there may not have been a significant relationship was that the situation in which help was needed was not an emergency. A majority of the research that has been done has been based on an emergency situation. Another possible reason may have been that there was no kind of established relationship. When each subject came in for his or her appointment, there was a very brief introduction. I, then, showed him or her to the cubicle where I gave the instructions and gathered the data on the helping behavior.

A factor that was a limitation was the sample size. Only 24 subjects participated, while I desired 40 to 60. Time constraints prevented obtaining more subjects. Another limitation was that, as previously stated, this was not an emergency situation that required help. Help was not necessarily needed, nor was there a clear message that help was desired.

For future research, I might suggest that the experimenter use a greater number of subjects. I would also suggest that a situation containing some type of emergency scenario be used to collect the data regarding helping behavior. Another suggestion for future researchers would be to establish a brief connection with the subjects, possibly by a short conversation or what would appear to be some sort of interview. A final suggestion would be to vary the amount of time in which the helping behavior is needed, such as giving them the scale before the scenario is presented to them, and also possibly varying the number of subjects present during the scenario.

This study appears to have external validity, especially illustrated by the countless experiments done on bystander intervention effect. I believe this could be studied in a natural field setting by interviewing and testing bystanders after an actual emergency or other similar situation has taken place.

Cramer, R.E., McMaster, M.R., Bartell, P.A., Dragna, M. (1988). Subject Competence and Minimization of the Bystander Effect. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 18, 1133-1148.Rogers, P., Eftimades, M. (1995, July 24). Bearing Witness. People,44, pp 43-44.

Rotter, J. (1973). Internal-External Locus of Control Scale. In Robinson and Shaver (2nd Ed.), Measures of Personality and Social Psychological Attitudes, pp 227-234. Ann Arbor, MI, Institute for Social Research.

Rutkowski, G.K., Gruder, C.L., Romer, D. (1983). Group Cohesiveness, Social Norms, and Bystander Intervention. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 44, 545-552.

Tisak, M.S., Tisak, J. (1996, Aug). My Sibling`s But Not My Friend`s Keeper: Reasoning About Responses to Aggressive Acts. Journal of Early Adolescence, 16, 324-338.

Valentine, M.E. (1980). The Attenuating Influence of Gaze Upon the Bystander Intervention Effect. The Journal of Social Psychology, 111, 197-203.

Submitted 5/12/98 11:12:27 AM
Last Edited 9/14/2008 5:19:41 PM
Converted to New Site 03/09/2009

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