If you’ve lived in New York or another large metropolitan city, you’ve likely seen a pedestrian walk past (or step over) a passed-out homeless person without even batting an eyelash. It’s both sad and disturbing, but the fact is that city dwellers often become desensitized to the plight of others.

Here’s an extreme example of that social psychological phenomenon: this Brooklyn woman witnessed a pedestrian get hit and killed by a car while she was walking down the sidewalk in downtown Fort Greene.


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Instead of running over a half a block to see if the person was okay—or calling 911—the woman turned around a couple times, then walked away and continued eating her slice of pizza.


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The woman killed was 30-year-old art curator Victoria Nicodemus, writes New York Daily News. The crash also seriously injured three others, one of whom was Nicodemus’ boyfriend, who was walking with her at the time. The Brooklyn woman driving the vehicle was “charged with driving without a license,” reports NYDN.

Is the pizza-eating woman simply a heartless sociopath, or is there another psychological explanation that can give insight into her behavior? The woman’s disregard for the injured could be partially explained by something called the “bystander effect.” According to Psychology Today,


“The bystander effect occurs when the presence of others discourages an individual from intervening in an emergency situation. Social psychologists Bibb Latané and John Darley popularized the concept following the infamous 1964 Kitty Genovese murder in New York City. Genovese was stabbed to death outside her apartment while bystanders who observed the crime did not step in to assist or call the police. Latané and Darley attributed the bystander effect to the perceived diffusion of responsibility (onlookers are more likely to intervene if there are few or no other witnesses) and social influence (individuals in a group monitor the behavior of those around them to determine how to act). In Genovese’s case, each onlooker concluded from their neighbors’ inaction that their own personal help was not needed.”

NYDN reports that “Nicodemus’ death was at least the fifth caused by a car hurtling onto a city sidewalk since Halloween, when an out-of-control driver plowed into trick-or-treaters on a Bronx sidewalk, killing two men and a 10-year-old girl.” When you think about it, cars truly are weapons of destruction.

[via DNA Info, NYDN]