A Study On CCTVs Refutes the Bystander Effect, Sheds Light on Changes In Human Behavior
Wed, April 14, 2021

A Study On CCTVs Refutes the Bystander Effect, Sheds Light on Changes In Human Behavior

People commonly assume that bystanders are unlikely to intervene in a public attack collectively ever since the murder of Kitty Genovese in 1964, said Todd Feathers of media channel Vice. But that is now questioned, albeit ironically because of the ubiquitous presence of surveillance cameras installed in cities all over the globe.

No person or patch of sidewalk goes unwatched in a number of modern city centers. Fixed CCTV cameras are deployed in urban areas, which is more than one for every 14 people in London, according to Jonathan Ratcliffe of CCTV,co.uk, a website for CCTV Installation Experts, cited Feathers. This means the number of CCTV cameras in use in London this year is 627,707. Police are even rapidly enhancing their surveillance arsenals with drones and body-worn cameras.

Statistics on CCTVS: They Are Watching You

Outside of London, there will be one billion surveillance cameras that will be watching the world by 2021, as found by IHS Markit, a leading source of critical information, cited Elly Cosgrove of business and financial news channel CNBC. IHS Markit also found that there are already about 770 million cameras, with 54% of those devices installed in China. The Americas followed suit, comprising 18% of all installed surveillance cameras. 15% of cameras are in Asia, except China.

These regions will see the greatest growth of surveillance cameras in the next two years, which will be driven by growth in developing countries such as Brazil, India, and Indonesia. If the data was broken down by the number of installed surveillance cameras per individual, the report found that one camera was installed for every 4.1 individual in China in 2018. Meanwhile, one camera was installed for every 4.6 individuals in the US in 2018.  

CCTV Footage: New Areas of Research

Watchdogs such as Tony Porter, the UK’s surveillance camera commissioner, warned that the ability of the government to watch everything all the time will result in both predictable and unforeseen invasions of privacy. However, there’s a silver lining when subjecting one’s self to the watch eyes of CCTV cameras: These devices have the potential to open up a new area of research in social science, allowing experts to test common assumptions about human behavior.

There are questions behavioral scientists would like to answer that render traditional data-gathering methods highly ineffective. Some of these questions are: “If you’re attacked in public, how likely is it that a bystander will come to your aid? If you come to someone else’s aid, what’s the likelihood that you will be injured yourself?”

It’s not a great idea to use simulated ideas and questionnaires. With regard to the relationship between surveillance and human behavior, experts need to gather real-world evidence.

Study On Human Behavior and CCTV Footage

Fortunately, Richard Philpot and colleagues attempted to answer those questions in a journal article titled “Would I be Helped? Cross-National CCTV Footage Shows That Intervention Is the Norm in Public Conflicts,” which was published in the peer-reviewed academic journal American Psychologist.  They used government CCTV footage from cities in England, Denmark, and South Africa. Philpot and his team gathered raw samples of video data containing 1,225 clips.

They then chose clips that were taken in an “inner city, urbanized setting” The clips should contain a conflict between at least two people and do not show another type of incident such as a traffic accident etc. Police officials or paramedics should also not be present during the conflict. Moreover, the clip was not a copy and should be of technical quality that “that allowed for behavioral coding with none, or negligible, breaks in the recorded interaction sequence.”

The authors finally selected 63 clips from the Netherlands, 61 for South Africa, and 95 for the UK— totaling to 219 unique video clips. The researchers found that in nine out of 10 cases, a bystander intervened in 90.9% of the situations at an average of 3.76 interveners per video. The intervention rate was consistent across all cultures.  

The results were contrary to the “bystander effect.” Many of the researchers tackling the bystander effect extracted data from controlled simulations, interviews, questionnaires, and other traditional data-gathering methods. Philpot concluded that while any person in a crowd who is witnessing the attack may feel the bystander effect, the chances of intervening increase if they are surrounded by more people. Those people then provide support for individuals who want to intervene.

Co-author and sociologist at the University of Copenhagen Lasse Liebst told Vice’s Motherboard, “There are a lot of questions that could be addressed with video and I think that not many researchers are aware of the massive amounts of video recordings that are available of all kinds of interactions.” He added that video has great potential but it’s under-utilized, unfortunately.

However, he emphasized that the study doesn’t affirm the expansion of surveillance levels. There is potential for this technology to benefit the public. However, it’s important to ask ourselves how we can aid the public in regaining control over it.

Limited Studies On CCTV Footage and Behavioral Science

The use of CCTV footage has been limited, as it is mostly employed by academics in Europe and Australia. To obtain footage, researchers must “win access” to them from governments and private corporations, which can be challenging due to bureaucracy.

To make matters more complicated, trying to win access to footage can even limit research areas. For example, police officers might be less obliged to provide researchers a CCTV database for a study into how authorities react to bystander intervention.  

Nevertheless, Liebst hopes that the results and follow-up research will result in improved public education and policy that could help make city spaces safer. But some privacy advocates expressed their worry that the authors’ altruistic intentions will be leveraged to “bolster surveillance states.” Cooper Quintin, a senior technologist at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, informed Motherboard that “it’s a tough question” as he would not necessarily support regulations that limit experts’ access to CCTV footage.

Quintin said, “I think we need to be careful to what degree we normalize and even benefit from the surveillance apparatus.” It becomes a bit more entrenched each day as we normalize and benefit from an institution. He added, “By making use of the data, you are supporting it.”

Surveillance cameras are used to monitor people and suspicious behaviors that may result in crimes. People assume that bystanders will not intervene if there’s an incident, but researchers said otherwise. Their research helps us understand that while a person may experience the bystander effect at first, they are more likely to intervene if they are surrounded by more people. With the growing number of surveillance cameras in the world, privacy and their ethical use must be taken into consideration without sacrificing people’s safety.