Friday, 12 November 2010

Psychology Friday... What would YOU do?

I'm running late. Nothing unusual about that, nor the fact that - as I march up the nursery drive to collect Charlie - other parents are already driving away, their offspring safely strapped in car-seats. Except one. I only notice when the car is level with me, but one little boy about Charlie's age is sitting proudly on his mummy's knee as daddy pulls off into the traffic. It would've been hard for me to intervene. I was on foot; the car was moving, to say nothing about what might have happened if I'd started gesticulating wildly as they drove away. I did once politely (I thought) point out to a motorist that he was driving the wrong way down a one-way street and nearly got run down for my trouble, so I'm no have-a-go hero. But what should I have done? What would you have done?

Now have a look at this clip.


When I was showing it a couple of weeks ago to my psychology class they were shocked, not that anyone would do such a thing because they knew it wasn't really happening; that it was part of an experiment. No. What shocked them was that so few people intervened. But when Irving Piliavin conducted an experiment into bystander intervention in 1969 he found a mere 50% of fellow passengers would come to aid of someone 'in distress' on the New York subway. Interestingly, that percentage increased if the apparent patient was elderly and appeared to be wealthy. But if he appeared drunk, hardly anyone would look up from their newspaper. If he was black and 'drunk', forget it. Over 30% of fellow-passengers actually got up and moved to a different carriage when someone near them needed helping.

So far, so predictable. People are reluctant to get involved, especially of they perceive some risk to themselves. But where does duty begin and self-interest end? The case of a baby, helpless, alone in the car, cries out for bystander intervention. As does the case of the front-lap passenger toddler.

I resolved to quietly have a word with the parents next time I saw them. But what would you have done?

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