Everybody Reacts Differently…

Actually, they don’t.

In many situations people act very similar to one another. Looking to each other for cues, groups of people will mimick each other, sometimes leading to group paralyses or group compliance. It’s called Social Proof.

A recent and publicly visible murder of a two year old in Turlock, CA serves as a tragic example:

The town of Turlock and much of the rest of the nation was shocked when a 27-year-old man beat and stomped his 2-year-old son to death on a rural road. But what was nearly as stunning for many people was that none of the motorists and their passengers who stopped and saw the attack tried to tackle the man.

The story illustrates a principle I first discovered a book title “Influence” by Dr. Robert Cialdini. In a fascinating book that spans a wide range of issues, Dr. Cialdin outlines how a crowd can sometimes fail to react simply because no one else does.

Dr. Cialdini discusses the 1964 murder of Catherine Genovese in his book and this recent case in Turlock reminds me of the Genovese murder very much. You’ll have to read the book for the full story on that murder (the book is well worth the time and money) but flip to page 111 and you’ll most certainly see the similarity.

Apparently, something called “witness apathy” can take place and bystanders aren’t quite certain they’re witnessing an emergency, even though a murder may be taking place in plain view.

Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department spokesman, Deputy Royjindar Singh, said:

“Your headlights are shining on a person taking the life out of an infant, and not just shaking and slapping but punching and kicking,” … “Everybody reacts differently.”

Well… not exactly. They all kind of did the same thing, which was nothing. That’s not to say that inaction on the part of the bystanders was a character flaw. In fact, they acted quite predictably as a group.

The thing to remember in a situation like this is to be direct about emergency aid. Whether you’re the victim or the bystander, be direct about the need for others to help. As Dr. Cialdini recommends in his book, single out bystanders and give them specific instructions to help avoid witness apathy.


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