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Global bystanders

Early career research

Considering the specific contexts in which potential helpers reside, together with the role of other individuals in that context, is essential.

Nihan Albayrak-Aydemir and Dr Ilka Gleibs

New research from LSE shows that individuals may act in the same way when they are responding to global emergencies to those witnessed at home, but they are less likely to notice these emergencies and know how to help if emergency aftermaths are less visible.

People are increasingly witnessing emergencies around the world that they do not necessarily have any physical or, often, cultural connection with. Yet support from individuals in the wealthiest parts of the world can be crucial, especially when governmental responses are often shaped by changing political interests, instead of needs.

Research from LSE, led by Nihan Albayrak-Aydemir and co-authored by Dr Ilka Gleibs, tries to understand what motivates individuals to help in global emergencies such as the Syrian refugee emergency. The research highlights the value in raising support from individuals who are both geographically and psychologically distant, and mostly wealthier parts of the world; and the drivers for taking action. 

Taking action in an emergency

Where previous research has explored the cognitive steps that lead to individuals taking action when help is needed in close proximity, current research has not, so far, tried to understand how people act when an emergency is taking place on the other side of the world, and when individuals are secondary witnesses.

For people to act in an emergency, research has shown that in cases where the event is 'near' to us, individuals will follow a series of cognitive steps. Each step leads to the next in order for an intervention to occur. This is known as the bystander intervention model (Latane and Darley, 1970).

  1. Noticing the event (NOTICE)
  2. Interpreting the event as an emergency (EMERGENCY)
  3. Taking responsibility to help (RESPONSIBILITY)
  4. Knowing how to help (KNOW)
  5. Applying the decision to help (ACT)

Global emergencies

In 2011, huge numbers of Syrian people started to flee their homeland to escape armed conflict, and seek protection in countries around the world, often under perilous conditions. Each year, the number of Syrian refugees seeking asylum in countries such as the UK and in Europe increases, bringing the emergency closer into the community and political discourse with both positive and negative consequences. While the conflict is physically far away from communities outside Syria, it is a present issue in communities and in political discourse. Some of this is positive with individuals compelled to respond to global emergencies such as this one. Much of it is negative. 


The authors constructed the Global Bystander Intervention Scale, testing the original bystander intervention model in two different contexts with a number of participants using the Syrian refugee emergency as the context.

They then measured any possible variances using participants from Germany and the United Kingdom.

They found that people largely reacted the same way to a global emergency, as they would to an emergency in close proximity, following the first four steps in the same way: Notice, Emergency, Responsibility and Know. 

However, despite these similarities, they were less likely to notice these emergencies and know how to help if the aftermaths of that emergency were less visible. The authors note this could be very revealing of the nature of global emergencies such as the Syrian refugee emergency which take place over a long time and cannot not be solved quickly. This could result in people delaying their helping responses and lead to people prioritizing one emergency over another.

These findings are valuable for future research and to understand how to raise support from individuals who are geographically and psychologically distant, and mostly wealthier parts of the world, from whom even small acts of help can be instrumental.

Behind the story

Albayrak‐Aydemir, N. and Gleibs, I.H. (2020), Measuring global bystander intervention and exploring its antecedents for helping refugees. Br. J. Psychol.. https://doi.org/10.1111/bjop.12474