, Volume 191, Issue 11, pp 2471–2498 | Cite as

Pluralistic ignorance in the bystander effect: informational dynamics of unresponsive witnesses in situations calling for intervention

  • Rasmus K. RendsvigEmail author


The goal of the present paper is to construct a formal explication of the pluralistic ignorance explanation of the bystander effect. The social dynamics leading to inaction is presented, decomposed, and modeled using dynamic epistemic logic augmented with ‘transition rules’ able to characterize agent behavior. Three agent types are defined: First Responders who intervene given belief of accident; City Dwellers, capturing ‘apathetic urban residents’ and Hesitators, who observe others when in doubt, basing subsequent decision on social proof. It is shown how groups of the latter may end in a state of pluralistic ignorance leading to inaction. Sequential models for each agent type are specified, and their results compared to empirical studies. It is concluded that only the Hesitator model produces reasonable results.


Bystander effect Pluralistic ignorance Social dynamics Social proof Social influence Dynamic epistemic logic 



The author would like to thank the editors for organizing the CPH-LU workshops on social epistemology, as well as the participants of said workshops for valuable comments and discussion. The work has benefited especially from discussions with Henrik Boensvang and Vincent F. Hendricks. Carlo Proietti is thanked for his corrections to the manuscript. Finally, a warm Thank You to the two anonymous reviewers: the comments, criticisms and correction provided by your thorough reading of the original submission have been invaluable.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Media, Cognition and CommunicationUniversity of CopenhagenCopenhagenDenmark

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