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The "Myth" of Kitty Genovese?

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Originally posted on April 14, 2014.

A recent New Yorker review (here) questions the famous claim that “38 witnesses” failed to respond to the Kitty Genovese murder and raises questions about the relationship between the media and the social sciences.  Psychologists have known that the New York Times’ original report of 38 witnesses is questionable.  In a 2007 American Psychologist article, Rachel Manning, Mark Levine, and Alan Collins reported on “The Kitty Genovese murder and the . . . parable of the 38 witnesses.”

Social psychologist Bibb Latané has responded to the New Yorker article, noting that the precise number of witnesses concerns a small “t” truth, with the dynamics of bystander inhibition being the central point of his award-winning research with John Darley.  The dynamic that drove the bystander nonresponse was not “moral decay” but a simple principle:  the “probability of acting decreases with the addition of more people.”

Latané’s letter in the April 7th New Yorker is available here, along with his more extensive submitted explanation.

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About the Author
David Myers has spent his entire teaching career at Hope College, Michigan, where he has been voted “outstanding professor” and has been selected by students to deliver the commencement address. His award-winning research and writings have appeared in over three dozen scientific periodicals and numerous publications for the general public. He also has authored five general audience books, including The Pursuit of Happiness and Intuition: Its Powers and Perils. David Myers has chaired his city's Human Relations Commission, helped found a thriving assistance center for families in poverty, and spoken to hundreds of college and community groups. Drawing on his experience, he also has written articles and a book (A Quiet World) about hearing loss, and he is advocating a transformation in American assistive listening technology (see www.hearingloop.org).