The bystander effect attempts to explain the lack of social responsibility in individuals owing to factors such as the diffusion of responsibility in a crowd (No one stepped forward to help victim in MRT assault, May 27).
While the diffusion of responsibility could be an explanation in this case, there may be other factors, such as social conditioning, at play.
Singaporeans tend not to care when it comes to public civic duty because staying out of trouble is a vital survival skill in an unpredictable situation, such as when someone is being assaulted.
Singaporeans have also been conditioned to depend on law enforcement to intervene in unruly disruptions in the public space.
This is not a diffusion of responsibility but, rather, a recognition that responsibility lies with those in charge.
I believe social conditioning better explains the bystander effect in Singapore than Western-oriented social psychology theories.
If we wish to get Singaporeans to be more civic-minded and act in situations such as in the MRT assault, we must be willing to alter some deeply rooted social conditioning.
It will not be easy or quick to do so.
Thomas Lee Hock Seng (Dr)