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gjm comments on Bystander Apathy - Less Wrong

25 Post author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 13 April 2009 01:26AM

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Comment author: gjm 13 April 2009 01:58:04AM 5 points [-]

On only 38% of the occasions will anyone report the smoke. Put the subject with two confederates who ignore the smoke, and they'll only report it 10% on the time - even staying in the room until it becomes hazy.

How big are the variances and measurement errors on those numbers? If everyone reports only 10% of the time when no one else does, then a group of three should report 1-0.9\^3 ~= 27% of the time. 38% seems quite a lot bigger than that. Is it possible that the confederates in the one-subject experiment were not merely not-reacting in the way that "real" people commonly do, but were behaving in a way that ordinarily means "I know what's going on, and it's fine"? (I don't think it's quite fair to classify that as pluralistic ignorance.)

I do also wonder, about the three-real-subjects case: if these people knew they were in a psychology experiment, it must have occurred to some of them that the smoke might be part of the experiment. (Unless subjects then were very naive about the tricks psychologists play.) With a group of people, it must be more likely that someone will think of that possibility. What does the article by Latane and Darley say about the actual behaviour of the subjects?

(My guess is that that last effect isn't a major contributing factor, because it presumably doesn't apply in the two-stooges case but the response rate there was lower.)

Comment author: prase 13 April 2009 06:43:16PM 5 points [-]

It's probably because the subject is unable to persuade the confederates to report. With three subjects it is possible that who starts conversation isn't the same person as who finally reports the fire. With only one subject he has to do all himself.

I think the study with confederates investigates the same effect, or at least its "microscopic dynamics" valid for one person separately. Nobody can consciously assume that the other "subjects" know that the smoke is OK. So it must be some kind of bias.

Comment author: JGWeissman 14 April 2009 02:05:51AM 1 point [-]

I would not call correctly deducing that the smoke is OK from the correct perception that the other people in the room are confident that it is OK a bias. The lower rates with the confederates may indicate people have some ability to tell the difference between another person actually believing that nothing is wrong and the other person remaining calm while still considering whether something is wrong. Of course, it would be interesting to know whether this ability comes from talking with the other person or merely observing them.

Generally, when a psychology experiment allows its subjects to find clues about its real purpose, you have to consider the possibility that the results represent the subjects seeing through the experiment.

Comment author: JGWeissman 13 April 2009 02:39:48AM 0 points [-]

If everyone reports only 10% of the time when no one else does, then a group of three should report 1-0.9\^3 ~= 27% of the time.

I agree. The experiment with the confederates seems to be testing something stronger than the bystander effect.