Research Summary

Organizational Benefits of Neurodiversity: Preliminary Findings on Autism and the Bystander Effect

Dr. Fakhri Shafai
A recent study out of York University was the first to look at how likely autistic people are to be influenced by the 'bystander effect'. The 'bystander effect' suggests that people are less likely to intervene in inappropriate or emergency situations if people around them are not intervening. This study looked at how likely autistic employees would be to report that they would voice concerns in specific workplace scenarios. The results suggest that autistic employees can be an asset to the organizations they work for as they are less likely to be influenced by the bystander effect.

Study Authors: Lorne M Harman, Mehrdad Farahani, Alexander Morre, Ateeya Manzoor, Braxton L. Hartman

Publication Date: August 24, 2023

Journal: Autism Research


Short Summary: Dr. Lorne Hartman and his son, Braxton Hartman, are researchers at York University.1 Dr. Hartman is a faculty member in the Schulich School of Business and an area of interest on unethical behaviours in organizations. Braxton Hartman is a graduate student in the Faculty of Health and has been advocating for himself and other autistic people since he was 12 years old. They wanted to explore how autistic employees can be an asset in the workplace and improve an organization’s overall performance.


Background: The ‘bystander effect’ describes situations when individuals in a crowd who witness an inappropriate or dangerous incident do not intervene. The first study on the topic in 1968 found that when presented with an emergency situation (smoke filling a room), people were less likely to respond to the emergency if people around them were not reacting2.  Research over the past 55 years has had mixed results on the impact of the bystander effect on intervening in violent or dangerous emergency situations, but some studies have found that for non-violent situations, like workplace inefficiencies, people are less likely to intervene3. While the bystander effect is a popular topic to study in the general population, this is the first study to look at the bystander effect in autistic people4.


What did they do? Thirty-three autistic and 34 non-autistic employees completed questionnaires that explored how likely they were to report workplace concerns and how much impact the presence of other coworkers would have on their decision to intervene or not. They used the Organizational Scenarios Survey, which assesses how people think about negative workplace issues and ethical concerns like witnessing inefficient procedures, unfair/unequal treatment, or low-quality business practices.   Two of the hypotheses for the study were that autistic employees would report that they (1) would be more likely to voice concerns about problems in the workplace and (2) would be less likely to be influenced by the number of other people witnessing the problem around them. If the results support these hypotheses, they suggest that autistic people are less vulnerable to the bystander effect. The authors also explored social ‘camouflaging’, or when autistic people ‘mask’ to try and hide their autistic characteristics in social interactions so as to appear more neurotypical.


What were the results? The results confirmed the researcher’s hypotheses. Autistic employees were more likely to report that they believed they would say something if they thought something was ‘wrong’ at a workplace organization. Autistic employees were less likely to be influenced by other people around them when deciding whether to report an issue. Taken together, the researchers confirm that autistic employees are less likely to be influenced by the bystander effect in workplace environments.

The researchers also asked questions to assess camouflaging and how that may impact the decision on whether to voice workplace concerns. They found that those who did have higher levels of camouflaging were more likely to report that they would call attention to an issue and be influenced by the presence of others when deciding to do so. The authors suggest that autistic employees who would report incidents also engage in high levels of camouflage are doing so, in part, because they want to “perform well in their job” and be “seen as a responsible employee” (page 1997).


What does this mean? Overall, the findings suggest that autistic employees can be assets to the organizations they work for as they are more likely to voice concerns around efficiency, inappropriate workplace behaviour, and poor-quality results. They are less likely to ignore problems in the workplace and can help organizations address issues earlier before they can grow to be bigger, more difficult issues to solve.


What are the limitations of this study? This study relied on a self-report questionnaire on how likely people would report that they would intervene in workplace situations. They were not placed in these situations so it is not possible to know how they would actually react. This study also had a small number of participants who were already employed. Future studies could look at a larger number of autistic people and those who are currently looking for employment in addition to those already employed. This study also only looked at workplace scenarios. Further studies looking at the bystander effect in autism are needed.


What can I do with this information? Employers can be educated on the strengths of their autistic employees and support their employees who bring up concerns. If you are an autistic person who is starting a new job, you may want to consider having a conversation with your new boss about expectations and procedures for bringing up workplace concerns. You can ask your boss about the sorts of concerns they want to hear about so you can make decisions on what you should or should not bring to their attention. This way you and your boss can start from a common understanding of how you can best support your organization.



1.     News@York. “People with autism less likely to succumb to bystander effect, York U father-son research duo finds”. October 26, 2023.

2.     Latane, B., & Darley, J. M. (1968). Group inhibition of bystander intervention in emergencies. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 10(3), 215–221.

3.     Levine, M., Philpot, R., & Kovalenko, A. G. (2020). Rethinking the bystander effect in violence reduction training programs. Social Issues and Policy Review14(1), 273-296.

4.     Hartman, L. M., Farahani, M., Moore, A., Manzoor, A., & Hartman, B. L. (2023). Organizational benefits of neurodiversity: Preliminary findings on autism and the bystander effect. Autism Research16(10), 1989-2001.





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