Geeking Science: Bystander Effect

I’ve set up a lot of tents in my day. Nearly all in existence take more than one person for the poles. I’ll like to think I would have popped up quickly and helped, but in the video people had also been assigned a task and I always attempt to complete my personal tasks before helping others. I mean, they assigned me a task for a reason.

One of my science loves is sociology, how groups of people interact. Knowing about the bystander effect gives a person the ability to avoid it within themselves and work around it in other circumstances.

CPR classes teaches the participants to point to individual bystanders in an emergency and give them tasks; untrained people don’t know how they can help but when asked to do a simple task, will jump on it.

WRITING EXERCISE: Have something happen with a large group of people present, it doesn’t need to be an emergency. Choose one person from the group; how long does it take for the person to stop being a bystander and what is the tipping point?



Everyone was home for Thanksgiving. Grandma making deliciousness in the kitchen with mom, my two sisters, and a cousin who worked in a restaurant relegated to making the gravy. Dad and the rest of the gang snacked, watching the game after the quick touch football game in the backyard ended up being a leaf fight. Twenty-three people in all, fifteen staying overnight, made a very crowded house.


I love my family.

Even Zelda’s two rescue greyhounds which she refuses to board. To grandma pets are family too, so Oil Slick and Leaping Lance shared floor space with the crawler and the two toddlers while grandma’s Princess and Sir Claws-a-lot, Santa for short, laid across the back of the sofa to avoid the tail pullers. Frozen Kitty wasn’t a fan of large groups and hid back in the guest room with Evan, helping the boy read the most recent Lunar book.

I had stolen a chair from the two tables set up yesterday and stuck it between the sofa and recliner to watch the game. My boyfriend leaned on the back. I mean, not my boyfriend, we are roomies, not romantic. He is a friend, who is a boy, and had no one to eat thanksgiving dinner with since his family lives in Florida. When I told grandma, well, you can guess what she said. We both are on the biology track, working towards pre-med research, and the apartment is right next to the Nibset Lab. God, I don’t know how many times I repeated that explanation this weekend. It’s still better than him staying at the apartment staring at the empty walls for the four-day break. Yes, we have pictures, we just haven’t put in the nails between TA, lab work, and classes, so they lean on the walls at floor level where we plan to put them up. Maybe next year.

So Malik bent down a bit to whisper in my ear, “When dinner?” like six million dozen deviled eggs, a vegetable platter, and four types of chips weren’t on the coffee table in front of us.


“Okay.” He stood straight a moment and then leaned back down. “Anything I can do?” tickled my ear.

Not a fan of football I guess. Actually, I know. Basketball he could tolerate, but any other sport bored the crap out of him. For me I watch football one day a year, well, three – Thanksgiving, New Year’s, and the Superbowl – because of school. I played until high school, when the boys got too big for me to tackle. I still miss being a defensive end.

I turned my head to the side to whisper back at him, lips skimming across his shaved cheek. “Do you want to brave the kitchen?” 

He snorted, pulling his head back a little to speak against my neck. “How about set the table?”

“Hm. Aunt Judith usually does that.”

“Which one is Aunt Judith?” 

I really couldn’t say why we were whispering, between the game and the shenanigans the noise approached hazardous levels. But for this answer, my voice became even quieter. “She died of cancer in the spring.”


Two plays and one commercial break later, the heat from Malik’s body shifted when he leaned down again. “It’s three. Shouldn’t we … I mean, the table needs setting.”

I looked around the room. I saw Dad and Uncle Derek and a couple other adults glance toward the bare tables, quickly bringing their eyes back to the game. The children tumbled and crawled over everything, unknowing and uncaring.

Aunt Judith would normally be putting the finishing touches on the center pieces just about now.

“Yeah.” I stood up and inherited an annual Thanksgiving task.

(words 621, first published 2/20/2018)