Friday, October 21, 2011

China's Kitty Genovese

We talked a lot on the old incarnation of this blog about social dilemmas, whereby combinations of free-rider problems, information asymmetries and so on can lead people to not provide assistance to someone in social situations. The example of Kitty Genovese who was murdered in New York in 1964 is frequently used in psychology textbooks as an example of how aspects of social situations can lead to someone not receiving help from bystanders. In that poor woman's case, the story goes that, despite her desperate pleas for help, the many neighbours in her apartment block ignored her and did not come to her aid. The case has always been a tricky one as it may possibly have been the case that neighbours did not hear her or may have assumed it was not as serious as it may have sounded. In the case of the recent Chinese toddler death, it is extremely sad to see people walking past a child who is clearly and umambiguously injured. Why exactly people just walked past without calling for assistance (someone eventually did) is currently a major source of conversation and outrage in China. The usual caveats about sample sizes of one apply, but it is clearly a case-study that demands debate all over the world. One of the ultimate forms of insurance we have is the basic faith that people will come to our assistance if we are injured in an accident. It is a difficult one to even conceive of developing a private market in and its not clear we would want to live in a world where you had to. The fact that a basic sense that an injured toddler merits assistance did not apply to many of the people in this case is something that we should debate in all countries as to whether this is an isolated case or an endemic feature of basic failures in our social systems.

2 comments:

Martin Ryan said...

I am reminded of a YouTube video that I watched recently on the Bystander Effect. An experiment was conducted at Liverpool St. station, and reported on. The moral of the story: dress well in London.

The Bystander Effect

P.S. That is a tragic story about the Chinese toddler.

Martin Ryan said...

The video is about "bystander apathy" btw; not the "bystander effect". Even though the title of the video is the latter.