Missing Child Experiment

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.


Posted on Tue May 06, 2008


Reminds me of both of SciFi Channel/Stan Lee's "Who Wants To Be A Superhero?". First season had a crying child in a park, second had them with posters like this near where they'd parked, and the actress/child sitting a short distance away.
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.

Posted by John Paradox  on  Tue May 06, 2008  at  06:26 PM
I'd like to see the arterial bleeding experiment...
Posted by Jackie  on  Tue May 06, 2008  at  06:31 PM
Maybe because there was no reward?
Posted by Silvar  on  Tue May 06, 2008  at  10:11 PM
I've experienced this effect before. I was standing at a bus station, and there was this woman - who, judging by her behaviour, was in some way mentally impaired (is that PC?) - standing in the middle of the road where a bus could come around the corner and knock her down...

...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...
Posted by Hugo  on  Tue May 06, 2008  at  11:37 PM
If I saw the "arterial bleeding experiment", not only would I not be helping, I would be passed out on the pavement. Eww...
Posted by Sakano  on  Wed May 07, 2008  at  07:43 AM
Hey, a similar experiment won a Pulitzer Prize this year.

Posted by Phred22  on  Wed May 07, 2008  at  08:22 AM
My wife and I would have a fieldday and help the kid from the poster or the arterial bleeder. However, I worked as a paramedic and my wife was a police officer. So that wouldn
Posted by Unfairly Balanced  on  Wed May 07, 2008  at  09:24 AM
I think I have commented before, I would probably only help if I wasn't with my children. Even if I saw the little girl alone, I probably wouldn't approach her. I might tell mall security (or go into a nearby store & have THEM call security so I could watch her if she moved) so that if the person who "took" her was still nearby, there would be no reason for them to know I was helping. I don't need a psycho kidnapper pissed at me.
Posted by Maegan  on  Wed May 07, 2008  at  02:10 PM
I think adults are conditioned to leave children alone if they are not theirs. After all, who wants to go up to a strange kid and start talking to them, and have people saying, well, I saw them talking to kids? People get questioned by the police for stuff like that. Or a parent come back and say hey, why are you talking to my kid? Another opportunity to get in trouble for trying to be helpful. And hey, if the kid is just sitting there alone next to the poster, why isn't she trying to get help for herself? Nobody is stopping her. That would make me think that is not the same kid as on the poster. Seems like an unfair test to get the conclusion they wanted to report on.
Posted by Kristen55  on  Thu May 08, 2008  at  10:19 PM
Since I always have, and always will *as long as I am able) do what I can to help others, I can not understand those who will not. To me, it seems doing the right thing is the natural thing to do.
Posted by Neil C. Reinhardt  on  Fri May 09, 2008  at  12:38 AM
After so many people not noticing that (previously listed) April's Fools Day jokes were from April 1, here some of the bystanders may have ignored the "missing child" matter because of the poster blatantly featuring the date of April 1. Instead of congratulating them for noticing "April 1" was involved, that factor is totally ignored. You can't have it both ways.
Posted by hoaxinghal  on  Fri Oct 23, 2009  at  04:01 PM
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