True Horror Stories, Part 1

It’s still nowhere near Halloween, but if you’re having chalets or camps — and it is orientation season for junior colleges — you may be looking for horror stories to share. This… is not precisely the best entry to search for them (I do tend to exaggerate in my titles) but throughout the next 3 weeks I will be sharing with you some things that did indeed happen and have quite worrying implications.

1. The Bystander Problem

There was an experiment where a student was led to believe that he was taking part in an experiment with between 1 and 5 other pupils over an intercom. The student then heard what sounded like another student having a seizure and gasping for help. The researcher then timed how long it took for the student to ask for help.

How would you predict the results? There is a variation in the time taken when the student thought that there was no other student with him and when he thought there were 4 others. For the 2-person groups, all of them got help by 160 seconds. For the 3-person groups, however, only 80% of them got up to ask for help, but those who did did it before 120 seconds. For the 6-person groups, only slightly above 60% of them got help, and before 160 seconds. So there were people who did not lift a finger at all.

I wonder if you have heard of the Kitty Genovese incident, the woman who was murdered at her apartment under the watching eyes of 9 other households. If not, I won’t link you since even Wikipedia has some pretty informative knowledge on the subject. But most of us agree that the main reason for the devastating incident is the Bystander Effect, or Someone Else’s Problem in Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy speak. Of course, there are also theories of conspiracies, such as her neighbours really hating her, but the fact remains that if you ignore a woman yelling her head off for help as she is being stabbed repeatedly, something has got to be wrong with you. Now multiply that disturbing thought by lots and lots of people who were there at the time. It seems killings don’t have to take place in deserted alleys at all.

The only way to get rid of the Bystander Problem is to be brave and take the initiative, and stand up to your true feelings. Just because there are many other people who could be doing the same thing you’re doing, do not rely on them. I guess we are all inherently lazy and selfish and really like to have other people do the dirty work while we sit back and watch, but nothing ever gets done if one person doesn’t start rallying others first. That is the mark of a leader.

While you chew on that…

2. The Asch Studies

Which line is the same length as the line on the left? Take your time with this answer and look very carefully.

Yup, I thought so, it’s Line B, isn’t it?

Oh yes, that guy over there agrees it’s Line B too. In fact, I’ve done a poll of everyone who has read this entry before you did.

Line A: 21%

Line B: 70%

Line C: 9%

It seems most people think Line B is the same line as the one on the left. What would you do?

What most people did was to change their minds and agree that Line B was the same length as the one on the left. This is known as group conformity.

When a judgment task is difficult or ambiguous, when group members are seen as competent, when responses are given publicly and when the group majority is unanimous, people in the minority will conform to the group opinion. Some say this was how the Challenger space shuttle catastrophe occurred, because the people who had sense were quashed by those who did not. Groupthink takes place quite often in the workplace and the best way to combat it is for the minority to get together and present a unified voice. Once an alternative opinion is offered, people may begin to form independent judgments and reflect on the current status quo. Of course, it can be hard to stand up to peer pressure, and most people may feel powerless to make any change if they stand out. Like the Japanese like to say, the nail that stands out is the one that gets hammered. People may feel that all they do, if they voice out their opinion, is create resentment against them, and hence choose to remain silent.

There are many considerations when it comes to voicing out an opinion. As leaders (which you have been established as in this entry), you ought to encourage people to offer alternative opinions and weigh them out carefully as a group.

So now we have the Kitty Genovese horror story and the Challenger explosion as well, all stemming from inevitable human fallacies. What other atrocities are our brains capable of? Find out next Saturday.

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