Exitement On The Way To Work/People Are (Generally) Kind

March 20, 2007 at 11:46 Leave a comment

While getting a ride to work today, we passed an older woman lying on the ground with another woman next to her. The first one had obviously had an accident, so we headed out of the car, called an ambulance and the works. Seems like she had a spell of dizziness and fell of her bike. It didn’t seem all that bad, except for pains in her hip. That’s mostly up to the ambulance drivers, so I hope shell be fine.

The interresting thing, however, is just how kind most people are in the face of an accident. People walking by asked if they could help, cars slowed down and their drivers asked etc. But, this is not the case with all accidents. In fact, this was, from a getting help-perspective an almost optimal situation, at least if the aim is to avoid pluralistic ignorance. Let me explain.

Pluralistic ignorance stems from the observation that during a series of brutal rapes in New York in the 1970s (if I recall correctly) not a single person in the vicinity reacted to the victims cries for help, even though the rapes lasted for hours and lots of people heard the cries. This was interpreted as an example of the brutality of urban people and the decline of common decency. It was, however, not that simple (or horrible). In fact, the very worst place to get injured or need help is in a densely populated are with a lot of people around. This is because of “Social Proof“. We tend to look at how other people are doing, and then do as they do. So, if we have a lot of people around, and no one is helping, neither will we. This leads to pluralistic ignorance.

In this case the woman was lucky because she had one person helping her, which is almost certain that you will get in a mildly populated area with a fair amount of traffic, both vehicles and pedestrians. As soon as she had the first person helping her, the correct behaviour according to social proof was to help her, meaning that for a short while there were like five cars and ten people involved with helping her (which in most cases meant “standing there asking if she needed help”). But people offered help.

If, how ever, you find your self needing help in an area with a lot of people around, there are a trick to it: Ask a specific person for help, rather than screaming in general for help. If someone is singled out from the bliss of social proof, they will react differently.

This is, of course, a valuable lesson in security in general. Remember social proof, and pluralistic ignorance in all security decisions…

Entry filed under: Observations, Personal, Security.

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