Local 6, an Orlando news station, recently conducted a "missing child experiment." They plastered posters all over a mall claiming that 8-year-old Britney Begonia was missing. Then they had Britney herself sit down alone a few feet from some of the signs. The question was: would anyone notice the poster and offer to help Britney?
The predictable result:
Of the hundreds of people who walked past and saw the posters, only two stopped to ask Britney if she was OK. Many people, questioned later, said they noticed Britney's resemblance to the girl in the poster, but were "fearful of getting involved."
It's the unresponsive bystander effect
, well known to social psychologists. People don't like sticking their neck out to get involved in a potentially uncomfortable situation, especially if no one else seems to be doing so.
I just realized that Local 6 is the same station that ran a similar experiment back in February
that I posted about, in which they had an actor pretend to be a criminal breaking into a car, and filmed the non-response of bystanders on the streets. They evidently think unresponsive bystanders make for compelling news. And luckily for them, social psychologists have devised all kinds of situations in which to test the phenomenon, including the bystander response to arterial bleeding
. So Local 6 shouldn't run out of material anytime soon.
In the first one, several of the contestants helped the kid get to 'authorities', in the second, NONE of them noticed the poster and child.
...and no one (not even me - due to this 'Unresponsive Bystander Effect') asked her if she was okay or if she need any help (she eventually got back onto the platform by herself).
I found myself looking around for about five minutes. You want to help but at the same time you're worried about offending someone, or getting arrested of sued or stabbed or whatever. It's a horrible feeling living in a mindset where you can't help someone out of fear of reprocussions...