Ignorance, Fear and a Baby Girl
Most of you have heard the horrific story last week of a two year-old girl in China caught on camera being run over by two vans and appallingly ignored by 18 passers-by.
Commentators across the world are now raising questions on social networking sites about how this level of disregard for human life can possibly occur.
Several are pointing the finger of blame at Chinese culture, but are other social phenomena at work here?
Pluralistic ignorance describes a situation where a majority of group members privately reject a norm, but incorrectly assume that most others accept it. The fact that so many passers-by ignored a dying child in a relatively busy city market, definitely puts the idea in peoples’ minds that others must have seen her and done nothing - so the norm is to do the same thing. Put another way, to actually intervene would be to act differently to other people in the local environment and after all isn’t it easier to just do as everyone else does? This may seem outrageous to most people, and of course it is, but that doesn’t mean that this collective behavior isn’t a very real thing.
Many will recall the death of Kitty Genovese who was murdered in Queens, New York, in 1964. In a sustained and prolonged attack lasting 35 minutes, her death was allegedly witnessed by 38 people who did nothing to intervene or assist in any way.
More recently, in April 2010, the attack on Hugo Alfredo Tale-Yax, again in New York City. After coming to the aid of a woman under siege from a robber he was cruelly stabbed to death. More than 20 people walked around Hugo in the hour it took before emergency services arrived. Many stared at him and one even took a picture, yet no one raised the alarm.Continued on the next page