The Kitty Genovese Case On March 13, 1964, at around 3:30AM, there was a murder in the Kew Gardens section of Queens, New York. The murder probably wouldn’t have gotten much publicity at all if it hadn’t been for a sensational article that appeared on the front page of The New York Times a couple of weeks later. The Times story led to groundbreaking research in social psychology and human behavior. It was very late, very cold, and very dark when 28-year-old Catherine “Kitty” Genoveseparked her car at the Kew Gardens train station after driving from Eve’s Eleventh Hour Bar in Hollis, where she worked nights as manager. When she got out of her car, she saw a stranger walking toward her. The man, Winston Mosley, 29, stabbed Genovese two times. As she hurried past a bookstore on Austin Street she called out, “Oh my God. He stabbed me. Please help me,” and fell to the ground. Winston was leaning over her to stab her again, when he heard a man’s voice calling from a window in an apartment building across the street, “Leave that girl alone!” Startled, Mosley ran down an alley, got into his car, and backed up, ready to drive off. Lights had gone on in the nearby apartment building, but they went off again. Mosley got out of the car and again followed Genovese, who had reached the doorway of her apartment building, which was in the back of the building. As she fell forward through the doorway, crying out, “I’m dying, I’m dying,” Winston caught up with her, stabbed her again, and then sexually assaulted her. A short time later a neighbor, Greta Schwartz, who had called the police after receiving a phone call from another neighbor, ran down to the lobby and cradled Kitty in her lap until the paramedics arrived. From interviews in the neighborhoods of the two stabbing incidents, police learned that as many as 37 people had seen or heard part of the stalking and murder of Kitty Genovese by Winston Mosley, but supposedly none of them had called the police except Greta Schwartz. The New York Times Breaks the Story On March 27, 1964, The New York Times published a front page story headlined, “37 Who Saw Murder Didn’t Call Police.” Apathy at Stabbing of Queens Woman Shocks Inspector. For more than half an hour 38 respectable, law-abiding citizens in Queens watched a killer stalk and stab a woman in three separate attacks in Kew Gardens. Twice the sound of their voices and the sudden glow of their bedroom lights interrupted him and frightened him off. Each time he returned, sought her out and stabbed her again. Not one person telephoned the police during the assault; one witness called after the woman was dead. That was two weeks ago today. But Assistant Chief Inspector Frederick M. Lussen, in charge of the borough’s detectives and a veteran of 25 years of homicide investigations, is still shocked. He can give a matter-of-fact recitation of many murders. But the Kew Gardens slaying
baffles him–not because it is a murder, but because the “good people” failed to call the police. Psychological Study of the Bystander Effect In 1968, J.M. Darley and B. Latane published a study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology that was inspired by the supposed behavior of the 37 “witnesses” to Kitty Genovese’s murder. They hypothesized that the reason bystanders did not take action was “diffusion of responsibility,” and that the more bystanders in an emergency situation, the more these bystanders believe that “someone else will help, so I don’t need to.” Participants in the study were college students in an introductory psychology class at New York University. Darley and Latane told participants that they wanted to study how students adjust to university life in a highly competitive, urban environment. They said they wanted participants to discuss their problems honestly with other students; and in order to avoid personal discomfort; participants would sit in separate rooms equipped with an intercom system. There were three different groups. Students in group one were told they would be talking with one other person. In group two, students were told there would be two other people on the intercom with them. Group three was told there would be five other people listening in to the conversation. In reality, all of the students were alone and the other voices they heard were on a tape. The emergency was that one of the participants in the discussion has seizure (the sounds of the seizure were actually played on tape). As the intercom discussions began, students heard the first student, a male, tell about his difficulties concentrating on his studies and problems adjusting to life in New York City. He then added, with some embarrassment, that he sometimes had severe seizures, especially when under a lot of stress. Then the conversation switched to the next student. In group one, the actual student’s turn came next. In the other two groups, the real student heard one or more other students speak first. After the real student took a turn speaking, the first “student” again started to speak normally, then began having a seizure, and asked for help. Darley and Latane measured how long it took subjects to help the student in trouble (helping was defined as leaving the cubicle and notifying an experimenter of the problem). Why? Not because they were apathetic [showing no concern]. All subjects were anxious and showed physical signs of nervousness. Darley and Latane concluded that as the number of people involved in an emergency situation increase, it’s easier for bystanders to assume that someone else will handle it; and the potential guilt for not helping is divided up. Other possible reasons for failure to act are fear of embarrassment or ridicule, fear that they are misinterpreting the situation. The authors also pointed out that most people don’t have much experience with emergency situations and are likely to become confused or overwhelmed when they encounter one.
Kitty Genovese – The Bystander Effect ANSWER ON PAGE 9 1. Briefly describe what happened to Kitty Genovese in 1964. (2-3 sentences) 2. Why is her murder so unique compared to the hundreds of thousands of others murders that have taken place in NYC?
3. Are you shocked by how this murder took place? Why or why not. Use 1+ piece of evidence from the reading to support your opinion. 4. Psychologists Darley and Latane decided to do a study of human behavior. What was their hypothesis as to why nobody helped Ms. Genovese until it was too late? 5. You should read and then reread paragraphs ___ to ___ in order to sketch out how Darley and Latane conducted this experiment. (Sketch and annotate the room/setup/experimient). 6. What did Darley and Latane conclude with their study? 7. Answer at least one of the following quesitons: a. Does their outcome surprise you? Why or why not. (5 lines) b. Have you ever been in a situation where you've seen someone in need? Did you help immediately? Not at all? Were you nervous? Describe the situation and the response of the people around you.