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One thing that has fascinated me about people is our tendency to be extremely ethnocentric.  So, the concept that we’ll do a lot of things just to fit in.  Not only will we do a lot of things, we will believe a lot of things that our reasoning would disagree with.  Well, if we ever let those ideas come to conscious thought.

I don’t think that people as a whole actually pursue truth.  Feel free to disagree, but I think that people almost always seek acceptance rather than reality.  If everyone else is picking their nose and rubbing their stomach, I think that most of us would follow the same ridiculous action.  That is, if we were the only one not doing it.

Consider this:

“Another experiment, by Bibb Latane and Judith Rodin, is even more dramatic.  A female experimenter asks the volunteer to fill out a questionnaire, as another student is also (apparently) doing, and retreats behind a curtain into what appears to be a storage room.  As the volunteer fills out the form, he or she hears the experimenter climbing a step ladder and struggling with what are apparently heavy boxes.  Suddenly, she falls:  the ladder clatters and her body thumps onto the concrete floor, and she cries out “Oh my God, my foot… I.. I can’t move it!”  This goes on for about a minute.  The other student continues to fill out the form.  So do 80% of the volunteers!

When with someone who doesn’t respond to an apparent emergency, only 20% of us do respond.  Even when we are alone, only 70% respond.  It really makes you wonder about the other 30%, doesn’t it?  Are they so afraid of embarrassment that they can’t even get up to ask if the experimenter is okay?

Well, it seems to be a bit more than a fear of embarrassment going on here — although embarrassment is likely a component.  First, most people seem to experience a degree of empathic fear — a combination of identifying with the victim and being uncertain about what to do that causes many people to freeze or panic.

Robert Baron found that, when a victim is in pain and the subject felt that they could do something to ease the pain, then the more pain the victim shows, the more quickly the subject responds.  But when the victim is in pain and the subject did not know what to do, the more pain, the more slowly the subject responds.

So, if we get a bit nervous and aren’t sure what to do, and there are other people around, we often hope that they will be the ones to respond, so we don’t have to.  In fact, the more people around, the less likely it is that we will respond.  This seems to have been very much a part of the Kitty Genovese case:  The apartments formed a U around the courtyard, so the residents could see each others’ lights come on and window blinds open.  Many of them simply assumed that someone else must have called the police.

If you think about it, it is rather logical:  If I am there alone, I have 100% of the responsibility, and I should certainly help.  If I am there with one other person, I have 50% of the responsibility, and I can flip a coin.  But if I am there with 100 other people, I have only 1% of the responsibility, so it would be terribly presumptuous of me to try to help (and potentially terribly embarrassing!).  They call this diffusion of responsibility.”

Dr. George Boeree  in his paper Conformity and Obedience

Just because you don’t conform to the majority doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re wrong.