Would you check on a neighbour if you heard them scream?

It's a question I've been contemplating for the past week after I fell off my deck and tore part of the ligament in my ankle.

It happened last Saturday afternoon while I was playing with my dog. Stepping backward, I misjudged the length of the deck and landed on the outside of my foot, rolling my ankle.

I screamed in pain, loud enough that the neighbours turned off their music, but as the minutes passed by in eerie silence I soon realised nobody was going to check whether I was okay.


I was home alone and couldn't stand so had to sit in the blazing sun with a rapidly swelling ankle until my husband got home from work.

In the week since I've found myself wondering whether I would have helped if the tables were turned and I heard one of my neighbours scream.

I'd like to think I would. If I had an elderly neighbour I know I definitely would, although I've also been in enough situations where I've been told to mind my own business when I've tried to help.

So maybe it was because our neighbours knew I was young and knew I had a partner that when I yelled out, they figured it wasn't their place to get involved.

Or maybe it was the bystander effect, which happens when the presence of others discourages someone from intervening in an emergency situation.

Social psychologists Bibb Latane and John Darley popularised this concept after Kitty Genovese was stabbed to death in 1964 outside her apartment in New York City.

None of her neighbours stepped in to help or call the police, which Latane and Darley attributed to the perceived diffusion of responsibility.

With neighbours on either side of our house and behind, perhaps the neighbours that did hear me figured someone else would come to my aid.


Or maybe what it really boils down to is that our neighbours didn't know me well enough to want to help.

Therein, I think, lies the crux of the problem - we, as a society, have never been so equally connected and isolated.

We crave our peers' approval online, sharing every little detail of our lives but in the real world we keep to ourselves, barely acknowledging the people who live around us.

Have we become so isolated that we wouldn't check on a distressed neighbour? I hope not.