In a 2019 study published in the journal American Psychologist, researchers in Britain and the Netherlands reviewed surveillance footage of 200 violent altercations in three countries and found that bystanders had intervened nine out of 10 times. In many of the instances, several strangers worked together to calm a fight.
The authors of the study found little variation in the rates of intervention in the three cities — Amsterdam; Cape Town; and Lancaster, England — suggesting that the human impulse to help strangers despite risks to one’s own personal safety is universal.
Richard Philpot, the lead author of the study, said the uniform rate of interventions was especially surprising given the climate of fear in Cape Town, a city with a comparatively higher rate of violent crime. “Now that we can examine real-life public conflicts on a large scale, we see that people actually help out a lot,” said Professor Philpot, a social psychologist at Lancaster University. “This is certainly reassuring, to know that others around do not exclusively inhibit helping, but are a resource for good.”