The ‘bystander effect’ is a lie

The “bystander effect” is one of those things that, when I read about it, I instantly sensed it was garbage theory, and it turns out it was. My bullshit detector does not trigger often, but when it does, it is accurate even when I cannot be logically sure. I’m more comfortable with evidence and logic, so I decided to examine the available information before jumping to conclusions.

The formulation of the bystander effect is problematic even at first glance.

The bystander effect is a social psychological phenomenon in which individuals are less likely to help a victim when other people are present. The greater the number of bystanders, the less likely it is that any one of them will help.

The first part seems entirely sensible and natural. The second part seems unlikely and unproven. Overall, it just doesn’t stand up to common sense.

If there’s a group of people near a victim in danger, are they all going to call an ambulance? Can two people perform CPR at the same time? Only a finite amount of help is practical or needed, so it’s baffling to frame the decrease in likelihood of each individual to help as anything surprising. What “effect” is there?

The definition of the bystander effect I’ve chosen is somewhat sensationalist and misleading. Firstly, the experiments that researchers performed contradicts the second claim. If 70% of people offer help as the sole bystander, but only 40% of people offer when there are other bystanders, then the theoretical probability of receiving any help increases as there are more people. You might attribute an unfortunate incident to the bystander effect, but I hope no one actually believes the second sentence of that definition to be a defensible statement.

The first part of the definition is also problematic. If I said “People are less likely to donate to charity when swimming,” is that accurate? It’s probably true, but it’s misleading to suggest that people don’t donate to charity because they’re swimming. All you could say is that people don’t donate to charity when they’re physically unable to in the moment. Likewise, is the fact that other people are present the primary reason why in some situations, bystanders are less likely to help? Is the same person less willing to offer help simply because there are more people? Basically, no. There are many factors, some of which are related to there being more people, but social group membership/identity is one of the key factors that can affect whether the effect is observed or if the opposite is observed.

In short, there’s not much evidence supporting the common definition of the bystander effect. That said, the first researchers Latané and Darley were not trying to prove something quite so obviously flawed; and they went on to theorize about other characteristics of bystander interaction/non-interaction. However, their interest was driven by the topic of the murder of Kitty Genovese, and some degree of fault lies with them for the fact that they, and subsequently most psychology textbooks thereafter, have grossly misrepresented the facts of the case.

There weren’t 38 witnesses, more like several at most. The relevant witnesses could not have watched for long, and they did call for help. And Kitty was still alive when police arrived. The bystander effect is founded on one giant myth. It’s not false just because it was based on a multitude of lies, but it also happens to be false.

Recommended reading: The Kitty Genovese murder and the social psychology of helping: the parable of the 38 witnesses. (R Manning, 2007.)


Mirroring your Android smartphone to PC

I spent a whole day playing around with mirroring my phone’s screen to my PC, so I figured I’d share some of my findings. This is not meant to be a rigorous account by any means. Although I did try almost every recommended software combination that potentially fitted my use specific case, I did not take much note of features that didn’t interest me if a given solution didn’t satisfy my primary concerns.

Basic criteria:

  • Android
  • Free, possibly with limtations/ads/watermarks, but temporary free trials aren’t okay. (Sorry, LonelyScreen.)
  • Supports transmission via USB and/or WiFi (well, there isn’t anything else, is there?)
  • All options support screenshots, but there is a varying degree of support for videos, shared clipboards, typing, notifications, controlling your phone via PC, etc. I didn’t have any need for fancy features.

My concerns:

  1. Good response time. All options have limited framerate, but >2 second delay is unacceptable.
  2. High image quality. Don’t need 1080p, wide 480p (540×960) is pretty good.
  3. Lower bandwidth usage is better, and streaming via USB is therefore better. (My WiFi is kinda slow/unstable so this might be a reason why some things worked particularly poorly for me.)
  4. Somewhat flexible UI.

To clarify about image quality, there are really three different concepts to distinguish:

  • Size of the UI screen on your PC. This is usually slightly adjustable. Most apps support full screen as well, but I prefer a large as possible size without full screen.
  • Streaming quality. The streaming quality is inevitably going to be less than the 1080p resolution of my phone, obviously due to the UI screen size being less than that (my monitor isn’t even 1080p wide-screen) but even more so because of the bandwidth limit.
  • Quality of screenshots taken on the PC using the mirroring software. Occasionally the screenshots are too low resolution or laced with compression artifacts that you’d get a better result taking a screenshot from your actual PC, not within the software.

Tested solutions:

  • Vysor. Picture quality is too low.
  • TeamViewer 13. Good response time and high image quality (can choose from 472×840 to 1080×1920). High bandwidth usage (100KB/s to 1MB/s) and does not support a connection over USB.
  • AirDroid. Relatively fast, limited to 540×960, typically around 100KB/s rate, access via a local address but does not really support transfer over USB.
  • Mobizen. Use the PC version not the online version. Delay over WiFi is ridiculous (anywhere from 3 seconds to over 10 seconds). Excellent response and quality over USB with minimal bandwidth usage. Has superfluous UI model for the phone, so the screen itself is 540×960 but it can be scaled larger if part of the bottom goes off the screen.
  • Screen Recording and Mirror + AllCast Receiver. Didn’t work.
  • ApowerManager. Slow (3 second delay). High quality, but the UI isn’t flexible.
  • ApowerMirror. Pretty nice app but let down by a few bugs and USB only supporting iOS. Fairly responsive with configurable image quality, but the bandwidth usage is higher than TeamViewer, sometimes reaching 1MB/s. Screenshot resolution is dependent on window size but only reaches about 312×556.


Unless I’ve misunderstood the conditions of the bandwidth rate shown on my phone, then Mobizen is the only option I can recommend for users of Android smartphones. This is unexpected, since when I first scraped all the suggested solutions, it seemed like life would have been so much easier if I used USB. (Actually, my phone had refused to connect to PC for months and today I spent hours debugging the drivers on my PC as well as on my phone, and in the end I tried some weird trick about poking inside the micro-USB port and suddenly my phone could connect again and I was frustrated at why some random unexplained solution worked and proved all the sensible checks to be pointless.) If your WiFi is stable, then TeamViewer is the most professional and trusted of these solutions, also offering the highest image quality. ApowerMirror and AirDroid may also be worth considering if you’re just messing around, especially the former if you are on iOS.

Finished reading Mere Christianity (C.S. Lewis)

Three years ago when I was recovering from a crush, I gave someone the opportunity to recommend any two unrelated books and promised that I’d read one of the two. Today I finally made good on that promise by finishing reading Mere Christianity (book and lecture series or PDF), which is probably the most famous Christian apologetic book.

I will not express any philosophical opinions on this book yet, only sentimental ones. For starters, Mere Christianity is definitely not what I expected it to be. It is split into four “books”:

  • The first book tries to argue that the reason why we have a general sense of morality that we expect others to abide by is because God placed this in us. His argument is a bit tedious, and the first time I read it (years ago, while still in my philosophical prime) I found several logical issues with it, though I cannot remember them from this recent re-read of it.
  • The second book starts to breach the area of what Christians believe, but not in a very concrete sense.
  • The third book describes his view about what moral beliefs Christians have in common, both in terms of non-religious topics and religious topics.
  • It is only in the final book that he really states the essence of what Christianity is about, in terms of what Christians are meant to be and strive for.

Lewis’ style of writing is very idiosyncratic. (Well actually, it’s based off his radio talks.) I cannot say that I like it (it is quite unfamiliar to me), but I appreciate the way he uses imagery and analogy to convey exactly what it is he means about things that could easily be misinterpreted by presumptuous people. I also admire the way he dispels a lot of illogical nonsense that people seem to get caught up with. His style of flow and reasoning is fairly convincing in the moment, but I must admit that it makes it harder for me to remember the bigger picture, where it is easier to spot logical flaws. Although some of his references to culture are outdated or foreign, even when it’s a miss it doesn’t pose an obstacle for interpretation.

Lewis uses analogies to explain the most difficult concepts in Christianity. It’s a no-nonsense explanation for laymen, and I definitely learned a thing or two that no one else has managed to conveyed to me so far. He also has some intriguing and purely philosophical hypotheses that seem to be his personal beliefs. Overall I would definitely recommend Mere Christianity to other non-Christian readers to get a basic grasp of Christianity without all the stigma, misrepresentation, and nonsense that is typical of hearsay. However, a major disadvantage of Lewis’ approach using analogy for me is that I now have to verify whether what he says is indeed an accurate portrayal of what Christians believe, but since he didn’t use much Christian terminology I also have to independently distinguish opinion from statement and try to decipher his analogies accurately.