Feel-good examples of helping: Discussion or assignment

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Sometimes we just need a little good news. In the Intro Psych social psych chapter, let’s give students some practice thinking through the Latané and Darley model of helping  (Latane & Darley, 1968). The next time students find themselves in a situation where they can help, maybe they will.  

Let’s start with the model of helping. In the event of an emergency, we (1) have to notice that something is happening. Next, we (2) have to interpret that event as an emergency. Once we do, we (3) have to assume some responsibility for helping. Lastly, we (4) need to know how we can be of assistance. If there is failure at any of those steps along the way, we are less likely to help.

Let’s start with truck driver Gary Wilburn. On October 4, 2022, Wilburn was driving through Arkansas when he encountered slow moving traffic. After an hour of this traffic, Wilburn spotted the cause. A state trooper’s car had crashed. He saw that the trooper was still in the car and was badly hurt. Wilburn called 911 and stayed with the trooper until help arrived (Good News Network, 2022).

Using Wilburn’s decision to help, walk your students through the model. With traffic moving at a crawl, Wilburn had no choice but to notice something was going on. Once he saw the trooper’s car, he interpreted that something as an emergency. Wilburn accepted responsibility for helping. (Wilburn said, “I’m that idiot that runs into burning buildings and pulls out pets. When I see something like that, I can’t keep going on about my day” (Good News Network, 2022).) Lastly, Wilburn knew what to do: call 911.

Now consider why all of the other drivers did not help. Is it possible that some drivers did not notice that (1) something was happening? For drivers who were just passing through and weren’t familiar with the local traffic patterns, they may not have thought that anything peculiar was happening. For the local drivers, though, this heavy traffic was certainly unusual. But (2) was it an emergency? Even if they spotted the crashed police car, they may not have noticed that the injured trooper was still in the car. They may have assumed that the driver had already been taken to the hospital. For anyone who saw the injured trooper, (3) they may not have accepted that they had a responsibility to help. They may have thought, “Look at all of these other drivers. Surely someone else has already called 911.” (Bystander effect!) Lastly, even if they decided that they had a responsibility to help, (4) they may have thought, “I don’t know first aid. I’m sure that someone not far behind me knows what to do.” When under pressure, it may not occur to us that, at minimum, we can call 911.

Ask your students to read this article about Emily Raines (a nurse) and her boyfriend who saved a man’s life on plane (Corbley, 2023b). In small groups (or as an assignment), ask your students to walk through the decisions made by Raines in each step of the Latané and Darley model of helping (Latane & Darley, 1968).

One more example! Ask your student to read this article about Michael Armus, Sr. who stopped a bank robbery in progress by asking the robber, “What’s wrong?” (Corbley, 2023a). Again, in small groups (or as an assignment), ask your students to walk through the decisions made by Armus, Sr. in each step of the Latané and Darley model of helping (Corbley, 2023a).

To close out this discussion (or assignment), invite students to share an example of when they helped or did not help. Ask them to walk through their decisions at each step of the helping model.



Corbley, A. (2023a, May 29). The incredible moment 69-year-old stops a bank robbery with words and a hug. Good News Network. https://www.goodnewsnetwork.org/the-incredible-moment-69-year-old-stops-a-bank-robbery-with-words-an...

Corbley, A. (2023b, June 6). A nurse and her boyfriend saved a man’s life on flight home from Bahamas vacation. Good News Network. https://www.goodnewsnetwork.org/a-nurse-and-her-boyfriend-saved-a-mans-life-on-flight-home-from-baha...

Good News Network. (2022, October 15). Texas trucker is named ‘highway angel’ for stopping to rescue a police officer pinned in vehicle. Good News Network. https://www.goodnewsnetwork.org/gary-wilburn-named-trucker-highway-angel/

Latane, B., & Darley, J. M. (1968). Group inhibition of bystander intervention in emergencies. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 10(3), 215–221. https://doi.org/10.1037/h0026570



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About the Author
Sue Frantz has taught psychology since 1992. She has served on several APA boards and committees, and was proud to serve the members of the Society for the Teaching of Psychology as their 2018 president. In 2013, she was the inaugural recipient of the APA award for Excellence in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning at a Two-Year College or Campus. She received in 2016 the highest award for the teaching of psychology--the Charles L. Brewer Distinguished Teaching of Psychology Award. She presents nationally and internationally on the topics of educational technology and the pedagogy of psychology. She is co-author with Doug Bernstein and Steve Chew of Teaching Psychology: A Step-by-Step Guide, 3rd ed. and is co-author with Charles Stangor on Introduction to Psychology, 4.0.