Kevin Hogan

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Bystander Intervention

This article will blow your mind. Pull up a cup of Coffee and drink it all in.

Do people help others in great or desperate need, or do they not?

In June of 2019, an important pillar of social psychological thought was seriously challenged.

– Past research going back decades has revealed that students on a campus, shouting fire in nearby rooms, knocked out or apparently injured in between dorms, just off the main walkways,  got almost no help from other students.

– Past research also showed us that the more people present when something bad is happening to someone else the less likely the “victim” would be to get help.

– There’s a famous story from the 1960’s about Kitty Genovese who was raped while dozens of people essentially stood by and watched.

And until this year it seemed that stories like this were fairly common.

Now we have a different kind of data with a fascinating result.

In Amsterdam, the U.K. and South Africa cameras record everyday life on the sidewalks, in parking ramps, you name it. And as you can imagine sometimes people get aggressive or even violent in every day life. Here’s what was found in the 3 nation study.

Bystanders will intervene in nine-out-of-ten public fights to help victims of aggression and violence say researchers, in the largest ever study of real-life conflicts captured by CCTV.

At Least One Person Will Help

The [new] findings overturn the impression of the “walk on by society” where victims are ignored by bystanders. Instead, the international research team of social scientists found that at least one bystander — but typically several — did something to help. And with increasing numbers of bystanders there is a greater likelihood that at least someone will intervene to help.

A team of researchers from the University of Copenhagen, the Netherlands Institute for the Study of Crime and Law Enforcement and Lancaster University examined unique video recordings of 219 arguments and assaults in inner cities of Amsterdam (Netherlands), Lancaster (UK) and Cape Town (South-Africa).

Lead author Dr Richard Philpot of Lancaster University and University of Copenhagen, said: “According to conventional wisdom, non-involvement is the default response of bystanders during public emergencies.”

But wait a minute, when did people start getting nice?


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Intervention is the Norm

“The current cross-national study of video data shows that intervention is the norm in actual aggressive conflicts. The fact that bystanders are much more active than we think is a positive and reassuring story for potential victims of violence and the public as a whole. We need to develop crime prevention efforts which build on the willingness of bystanders to intervene.”

Security cameras in the urban environments of Lancaster (UK), Amsterdam (Netherlands) and Cape Town (South-Africa) captured aggressive public conflicts. In 91% of situations, bystanders watching the incident intervened in several ways including:

    • physically gesturing for an aggressor to calm down
    • physically blocking an aggressor or pulling an aggressor away
    • consoling the victim

The research further showed that a victim was more likely to receive help when a larger number of bystanders was present.

Dr Philpot said: “The most important question for the potential victim of a public assault is ‘will I receive help if needed?’ While having more people around may reduce an individual’s likelihood of helping (i.e., the bystander effect), it also provides a larger pool from which help-givers may be sourced.”

The study also found NO difference in the rates of intervention between the three cities, even though inner city Cape Town is generally perceived to be less safe. Researchers suggest that it is not the level of perceived danger that sets the overall rate of helping, rather it is any signal that the situation is conflictual and requires intervention.

The consistent helping rate found across different national and urban contexts supports earlier research “suggesting that third-party conflict resolution is a human universal, with a plausible evolutionary basis.”

In contrast to the idea that we live in a ‘walk-on by society’ — where people never get involved — the high levels of intervention found in this study across different national and urban contexts suggests that intervention is the norm in real-life inner-city public conflicts.

This work was supported by the Danish Council for Independent Research as awarded to project principal investigator Prof. Marie Rosenkrantz Lindegaard and reported by Lancaster University.

My guess is this observational study tells an important story and similar results are likely to happen in the U.S.

But if this good Samaritan behavior is to generalize, we should see more of it in similar situations.

Lost Luggage Kevin Hogan

Yesterday I returned to Wroclaw Airport and the LOT Airlines lost luggage desk for the fourth time in 3 days. I now am very familiar with the LOT family. The staff required to deal with those with lost luggage (numerous flights of people were there and my wait in line was 3+ hours…and this happened last October as well. The people “helping” were not at fault of course. This was a combination of bungles to lose 100 pieces of luggage by one airline at one airport in one day. And I don’t care about fault so much.

Lose luggage? The Airlines lose nothing, outside of goodwill, by having your luggage delayed for three days. So empathy is not at work in this situation. Three days in the same pair of pants is no crisis, nor is visiting and revisiting LOT, but it is an emotional challenge as far as disappointment and frustration.

But what about the potential good Samaritan behavior of someone finding a lost wallet? Not a wallet with like $5,000 in it or one loaded with credit cards but a wallet with a few bucks… something reasonable.

A MASSIVE study of 17,000 tells another “feel good” story for influencers.

Here it is:

Page 3

Honesty is Most Important

The setup of a research study was a bit like the popular ABC television program “What Would You Do?” — minus the television cameras and big reveal in the end.

An international team of behavioral scientists turned 17,303 “lost” wallets containing varying amounts of money into public and private institutions in 355 cities across 40 countries.Their goal was to see just how honest the people who handled them would be when it came to returning the “missing” property to their owners. The results were not quite what they expected.

“Honesty is important for economic development and more generally for how society functions in almost all relationships,” said Alain Cohn, assistant professor at the U-M School of Information. “Yet, it often is in conflict with individual self-interest.”

The wallets either contained no money, a small amount ($13.45) or a larger sum ($94.15). Each wallet had a transparent face revealing a grocery list along with three business cards with a fictitious person’s name, title and an email address printed on them.

Research assistants posed as the wallet finders, hurriedly dropping them off in such places as banks, theaters, museums or other cultural establishments, post offices, hotels, police stations, courts of law or other public offices so as to avoid having to leave their own contact information. Most of the activity occurred in 5-8 of the largest cities in each country, totaling approximately 400 observations per country.

The experiment on honesty most likely represents the truest picture of how people respond when no one is looking, and the results were surprising in more ways than one, researchers report in the current issue of Science.

Honesty Wallet Experiment

Initially, the researchers went into the field experiment expecting to find a dollar value at which participants would be inclined to keep the money, believing the prevailing thought that the more cash in the wallet, the more tempting it would be for the recipients to take it and run.

Instead, the team found that…

Page 4

The team from U-M, the University of Zurich and the University of Utah found that in nearly all of the countries, the wallets with greater amounts of money were more likely to be returned.

Psychological Forces Over Financial Forces

In 38 of 40 countries, citizens overwhelmingly were more likely to report lost wallets with money than without. Overall across the globe, 51% of those who were handed a wallet with the smaller amount of money reported it, compared with 40% of those that received no money. When the wallet contained a large sum of money, the rate of return increased to 72%.

“The psychological forces — an aversion to not viewing oneself as a thief — can be stronger than the financial ones,” said co-corresponding author Michel André Maréchal of the University of Zurich.

Not all wallets in the field experiment were returned, however. Among the other surprises were some of the places where people were not so honest. Wallets dropped off at the Vatican and at two anti-corruption bureaus were among those that never made their way back to the “rightful owners.”

Cohn said unlike other research of its kind, in which people knew they were being observed — usually in laboratory settings in wealthier Western, industrialized nations — the data in this field study was gathered from people across the world, in natural settings, who had no idea anyone was watching.

“It involves relatively high stakes in some countries. Previous studies focused on cheating in modest stakes,” Cohn said.

After getting the field results, the team surveyed more than 2,500 people in the United Kingdom, the United States and Poland to better understand why honesty matters to us more than the money. The respondents were presented with a scenario that matched the field experiment and asked questions about how they would respond if presented with a lost wallet. Similar to the field study, those in this survey said failing to return a wallet felt like stealing when more money was involved.

The team also conducted a survey with 279 economists and experts in the field who predicted participants likely would keep the money. Another survey of nearly 300 people in the U.S. also showed that when predicting the behavior of others, respondents believed civic honesty would waiver when the amount of money was higher. While the experts had a bit more faith in the honesty of individuals, both groups believed the more money in the wallet, the more tempting it would be to keep it.  Materials provided by University of Michigan.

Priming Influences Outcome

There is a lot I don’t like about this study because it’s not really about lost wallets but about priming. (People are bringing a lost wallet to some location, so their behavior is being observed. In other words, had their been this many lost wallets found on the street, in an Uber or Taxi, a hotel room…well,  I’m betting that we would have seen much less impressive results as far as a “predictor of honesty.” BUT what I see when I read this paper is an IMPRESSIVE result as far as the value of PRIMING people’s behaviors!

Not everyone responded in a stand up fashion, so just which types are likely to have helped?

Which type of person are you?


Page 5

Four Unique Human Behaviors

Humans perform four behaviors that are fairly unique.

      1. We help people who need help without their having to request the help.
      2. We get upset when others do harm to innocent people.
      3. We punish those who are cruel.
      4. We shun the freeloader.

There are three basic types of people on our planet.

      1. Cooperators (people who help everyone regardless of the other person’s traits)
      2. Shunners (people who help those who help the community or the group, but only those people)
      3. Defectors (people who leech off the system from Shunners and Cooperators)

Now you’re going to find out who “wins” the most… and most often… in the game of life!!

If you’ve ever been tempted to drop a friend who tended to freeload, then you have experienced a key to one of the biggest mysteries facing social scientists, suggests a study by UCLA anthropologists.

“If the help and support of a community significantly affects the well-being of its members, then the threat of withdrawing that support can keep people in line and maintain social order,” said Karthik Panchanathan, a UCLA graduate student whose study appears in Nature. “Our study offers an explanation of why people tend to contribute to the public good, like keeping the streets clean. Those who play by the rules and contribute to the public good will be included and outcompete freeloaders.”

This finding — at least in part — may help explain the evolutionary roots of altruism and human anger in the face of uncooperative behavior, both of which have long puzzled economists and evolutionary biologists, he said.

“If you put two dogs together, and one dog does something inappropriate, the other dog doesn’t care, so long as it doesn’t get hurt,” Panchanathan said. “It certainly wouldn’t react with moralistic outrage. Likewise, it wouldn’t experience elation if it saw one dog help out another dog. But humans are very different; we’re the only animals that display these traits.”

The study, which uses evolutionary game theory to model human behavior in small social groups, is the first to show that cooperation in the context of the public good can be sustained when freeloaders are punished through social exclusion, said co-author Robert Boyd, a UCLA professor of anthropology and fellow associate in UCLA’s Center for Behavior, Evolution and Culture.

“Up to this point, social scientists interested in the evolutionary roots of cooperative behavior have been hard-pressed to explain why any single individual would stick his neck out to punish those who fail to pull their weight in society,” Boyd said. “But without individuals willing to mete out punishment, we have a hard time explaining how societies develop and sustain cooperative behavior. Our model shows that as long as it is socially permissible, withholding help from a deadbeat actually proves to be in an individual’s self-interest.”

Human Behavior Cooperation

With funding from the National Science Foundation, Panchanathan set out to recreate mathematically a small community in which people participate in a public good, such as an annual clearing of a mosquito-infested swamp, which takes time from their day but which saves the entire community time down the line because the work prevents them from getting sick. He assumed that individuals in the close-knit community frequently swap favors, like helping neighbors repair their homes after a storm. He also assumed that no single individual or agency was being paid to keep individuals in line. Community members had to do it themselves, much as our evolutionary ancestors would have done.

In his mathematical model, Panchanathan pitted three types of society members:

      • “Cooperators,” or people who always contribute to the public good and who always assist individual community members in the group with the favors that are asked of them.
      • “Defectors,” who never contribute to the public good nor assist other community members who ask for help.
      • “Shunners,” or hard-nosed types who contribute to the public good, but only lend aid to those individuals with a reputation for contributing to the public good and helping other good community members who ask for help. For members in bad standing, shunners withhold individual assistance.

Who are you?!

I know it’s hard to honestly self analyze and it IS one of those times when your “gut response”might actually be “right.”

During the course of the game, both cooperators and shunners helped to clear the swamp. The benefits from the mosquito-free swamp, however, flowed to the whole community, including defectors. When the researcher took only this behavior into account, the defectors come out on top because they enjoyed the same benefits the other types, but they paid no costs for the benefits.

But when it came to getting help in home repair, the defectors didn’t always do so well.

The cooperators helped anyone who asked, but the shunners…

(Turn the page)

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The shunners were selective; they only help those with a reputation for clearing the swamp and helping good community members in home repair. By not helping defectors when they ask for help, shunners were able to save time and resources, thus improving their score. If the loss that defectors experienced from not being helped by shunners was greater than the cost they would have paid to clear the swamp, then defectors lost out.

Evolutionarily Stable Equilibrium

After these social interactions went on for a period of time that might approximate a generation, individuals were allowed to reproduce based on accumulated scores, so that those with more “fitness points” had more children. Those children were assumed to have adopted their parents’ strategy.

Eventually, Panchanathan found that communities end up with either all defectors or all shunners.

“Both of those end points represent ‘evolutionarily stable equilibriums’; no matter how much time passes, the make-up of the population does not change,” Panchanathan said.

In a community with just cooperators and defectors, defectors — not surprisingly — always won. Also when shunners were matched against cooperators, shunners won.

“The cooperators were too nice; they died out,” Panchanathan said. “In order to survive, they had to be discriminate about the help they gave.”

But when shunners were matched against defectors, the outcome was either shunners or defectors. The outcome depended on the initial frequency of shunners. If enough shunners were present at the beginning of the exercise, then shunners prevailed. Otherwise, defectors prevailed, potentially pointing to the precarious nature of cooperative society.

“We know that people pay their taxes and engage in all kinds of other cooperative behaviors in modern society because they’re afraid they’ll get punished,” Panchanathan said. “The problem for the social scientist becomes how did the propensity to punish get started? Why do I get angry if someone doesn’t contribute? Isn’t it just better to say, ‘It’s their business,’ and let everybody else in the group get angry? After all, punishing someone else will take time and energy away from activities that are more directly important to me and I may get hurt.”

“By withdrawing my support from a freeloader, I benefit because every time I do something nice for someone, it costs me something,” Panchanathan said. “By withdrawing that support, I’m spared the energy, time or whatever costs are entailed. I retain my contribution, but the deadbeat is punished.”

In practice, however, cooperative societies hold defectors in line through a series of measures, Panchanathan said. “The first level is disapproval: you say, ‘That wasn’t cool’ or you give a funny look,” he said. “Then you withdraw social support. Finally, you lower the boom and either physically hurt the defector or run him out of town.”

Ultimately, he admits, this model is “a very simple and crude approximation” of the real world. “For example, in my model, only defectors or shunners can persist. They cannot coexist,” he said. “But we know that some people are generally cooperative, playing by society’s rules, while others are not. This type of modeling doesn’t explain everything. Instead, it boils down a complex social world and tries to understand one small piece. In this case, we found that cooperation can persist if people need to maintain a good reputation in their community.”


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