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AndySimpson comments on Bystander Apathy - Less Wrong

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

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Comment author: AndySimpson 13 April 2009 07:13:37AM 6 points [-]

The explanation that "choking" is disadvantageous seems to explain a great deal of this behaviour. However, as Eliezer points out, fear to take on the risk of action doesn't explain the whole thing: one person with a gallantry gene tears that model apart.

It strikes me as possible that there's a large cultural role here. It may be that we don't intervene not because of selfish evolutionary decision-making, but because of an overdeveloped sense of inferiority to the collective. I remember reading more than once that the placebo effect is much more pronounced in Germany and other Northern European countries than it is in the United States or Brazil on account of the Northern European cultural trust in figures of authority, which isn't as strong in the New World.

I wonder if that translates to bystander apathy. It seems plausible that someone from a usually orderly, law-abiding country like the US or Germany might see an emergency or hear cries for help and think to himself "I'm sure the Police of Fire Department or somebody have that under control. I don't know what I'm doing, so it's best not to get involved." This seems consistent with the pluralistic ignorance explanation: everyone looks around furtively for some official with a bold look and a colorful hat to signal whether we should be worried.

Have there been any studies comparing the bystander effect across different cultures? Do they tell us anything?