When someone gets mugged or is subjected to racist harassment on the street, most people will walk by like nothing happened. Sometimes, no one stops to help at all. In fact, the more people present, the less likely that any one person will intervene—a phenomenon known as the bystander effect.

Ignoring someone in danger is a psychological instinct. But that doesn’t mean you’re destined to freeze up in the face of a crime. This is how you become a better bystander.

Sometimes fear is what stops bystanders in their tracks. “People feel uncomfortable stepping forward in the presence of others and potentially making a mistake,” Staub says. That misstep could mean trying to stop what they think is a kidnapping but is actually a child throwing a tantrum, or failing at their intervention.

Similarly, bystanders may not step in because they’re afraid someone will blame them for the situation. They may also fear that the perpetrator will turn and attack them, whether they’re watching a violent crime or verbal harassment, says Stephanie Preston, a psychology professor at the University of Michigan.

The context surrounding the incident has a significant effect on whether passersby will jump in and help, too. Men and women, for example, are both more likely to help a victim if the other bystanders are women, Preston says. A bystander is further likely to respond if they’re surrounded by friends instead of strangers. In these situations, the active bystander may feel less intimidation, she explains.

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at Popular Science.