The bystander effect in an N-person dictator game

Karthik Panchanathan, Willem E. Frankenhuis, Joan Silk

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


Dozens of studies show that bystanders are less likely to help victims as bystander number increases. However, these studies model one particular situation, in which victims need only one helper. Using a multi-player dictator game, we study a different but common situation, in which a recipient's welfare increases with the amount of help, and donors can share the burden of helping. We find that dictators transfer less when there are more dictators, and recipients earn less when there are multiple dictators. This effect persisted despite mechanisms eliminating uncertainty about other dictators' behavior (a strategy method and communication). In a typical public goods game, people seem to transform the situation into an assurance game, willing to contribute if certain others will too. Despite similarities, people do not treat a recipient's welfare like a public good. Instead, people seem to transform the situation into a prisoner's dilemma, refusing to help whatever others do.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)285-297
Number of pages13
JournalOrganizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 1 2013


  • Bystander effect
  • Dictator game
  • Diffusion of responsibility
  • Helping
  • Interdependence theory
  • Social dilemma

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Applied Psychology
  • Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management


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