What Would You Do? was originally a TV special that hooked viewers in with a very intriguing premise: what would people really do when they were presented with certain social situations, such as a man appearing to berate a woman, someone stealing a bike, someone insulting another person’s sexual orientation or religion, just to name a few of the scenarios ultimately presented on the show.
The show attempts to reveal what real life people did do when presented with these scenarios, which were set up by the show’s producers with actors; the results were varied and sometimes, not very flattering. In one sequence, for example, people were shown walking by a homeless person who appeared in distress on the ground without so much as another glance—until, eventually, one person did stop to help. Sometimes the show’s host and camera crew are then depicted stepping in to ask the people who reacted—whether they reacted actively or not—why they behaved the way they did.
The show’s original specials were so popular that the producers decided to extend it from a one-time special event into a full-fledged TV series. The show has continued to produce new seasons and is even in syndication.
Yet there is one very big question that many viewers had often wondered about the show: does it actually make people think twice about how they would react to seeing these situations in public?
Over the years, the show has featured many serious and even controversial scenarios—yet most of them are something that people would actually see at some point during their daily lives. The show reveals the varied reactions of people, whose reactions can range from doing nothing, quietly saying something to other people but otherwise not engaging themselves into the scenario, to outright interjecting themselves into the situation.
For example: A scenario depicting a group of teens beating up a homeless man resulted in some people slowing down to see what was going on, then driving away; some people slowing down and yelling at the kids to stop, but simply driving away; some people slowing down and calling the police but not engaging themselves into the situation; and some people who even stopped, got out of their cars, and rushed up to defend the man.
Depicting these scenarios is one thing—but does watching the different reactions have any effect on the viewers at home? Can people really watch a scenario from a distanced, outside perspective and alter their own behavior because of it? Or is the show’s premise just not enough to affect someone that personally?
Some critics of the show say quite simply that no, the show is like an amplified bystander affect, giving viewers the idea that someone will intervene eventually—it doesn’t have to be them. But some fans of the show have admitted that their viewership of What Would You Do? actually did result in them thinking twice when they encountered similar scenarios on the street.