Tuesday, August 16, 2005
Diffusion of responsibility 2
- You must notice an event is happening
- You must interpret the event as one requiring help
- You must assume personal responsibility
- You must decide what action to take
- You must then take action
A decade later, John Bearman, a social scientist, worked with a group of college students to examine whether an individual’s awareness of this “diffusion of responsibility” would enable them to avoid it. He showed selected students films of Darley and Latané’s experiments. Those students who saw the films and learned the stages that led to good citizenship were then nearly twice as likely to offer help/take personal initiative as those without such education. Bearman’s study showed that if the bystander effect is explained to people, they are to some degree inoculated against it.
On many levels, the diffusion of responsibility phenomenon is directly relevant to the Children’s Project. Together with an inherent expectation that it is the responsibility of the state to sort out any problem, it generates a large-scale societal inertia which this project is aiming to break down. Where the issues are also large-scale, such as global warming, there is even more reason for an individual to fear that their contribution is not just inappropriate but irrelevant as well. In offering visitors an experience that challenges a collective opt-out mentality, this project will utilise at least the first four of the five stages to promote positive engagement and individual responsibility, by building the communication process around them.
Monday, August 15, 2005
Diffusion of responsibility 1
Excerpt from Unspeakable Acts, Ordinary People by John Conroy (Berkeley, California: University of California Press, 2000)
The indifference demonstrated by bystanders in the face of other people's suffering has been widely studied, particularly since the murder of twenty-eight-year-old Kitty Genovese on March 13, 1964, in Queens New York. The murder was witnessed by thirty-eight of the victim's neighbors. During the thirty minutes that it took the killer to complete his act, not one of those thirty-eight people called the police or came to the young woman's aid.
In considering that incident, psychologists John Darley and Bibb Latane wondered if Genovese might have fared better had there been fewer onlookers. The two psychologists then designed a series of experiments to test the hypothesis that the greater the number of people who witness an emergency, the less likely it is that anyone will do anything about it.
In one experiment, New York University students were led, one by one, to small rooms. Each was told that he or she was part of a group of students, all sitting alone in similar rooms, all connected by microphones and headsets. During the course of a discussion about the pressures that students faced, the subjects heard one student--actually a confederate of the experimenters--confess that he was prone to seizures when tense. A few minutes later, subjects heard that same student break down and plead for help. The subjects had been led to believe that no instructor would be monitoring their conversation, so no one hearing the seizure was clearly in charge.
In an article on the experiment published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Darley and Latane reproduced a portion of the victim's speech, the ending of which went as follows: "I-er-if somebody could help me out it would-it would-er-er s-s-sure be-sure be good . . . because-er-there-er-er-a cause I-er-I-uh-I've got a-a one of the-er-sei-er-er-things coming on and-and-and I could reallyer-use some help so if somebody would-er-give me a little h-helpuh-er-er-er-er-er could somebody-er-er-help-er-uh-uh-uh [choking sounds].... I'm gonna die-er-er-I'm ... gonna die-er-help-er-erseizure-er [chokes, then quiet]."
The experiment was designed so that the subjects believed they could not communicate directly with each other-all believed that their microphones were turned off when it was not their turn to speak. Some subjects believed that they were part of a two-person group, and that therefore they alone had heard the young man's seizure. Other subjects believed that one other student had also heard the victim's pleas (a three-person group), and still others thought that four other people were listening when the breakdown occurred (a six-person group). The dependent variable was the time elapsed from the start of the victim's fit until the subject sought help. If six minutes passed after the end of the fit and the subject had not left his or her room, the experimenter entered the room and terminated the session.
Darley and Latane's theory about bystanders proved to be correct. All of the subjects who thought that they alone had heard the victim's seizure tried to get help, most leaving their room before the victim had even finished his speech. Eighty percent of those in the three-person groups sought help, albeit it a little more slowly than those in the two-person groups. But only 62 percent of those in the six-person groups left their room, and they moved at a considerably slower pace: 50 percent of the single bystanders bolted from the room within forty-five seconds of the start of the seizure, by which time none of the people in the six-person groups had yet reached the door. Males and females responded to the emergency with almost exactly the same frequency and speed.
Surprisingly, Darley and Latane did not find that the subjects who stayed in their seats were apathetic or unconcerned; in fact, those who did not respond to the emergency seemed more upset than those who did, often asking the experimenter who entered their rooms if the victim was all right. The two psychologists concluded that non-intervening subjects had not responded because they were mired in a state of indecision and internal conflict: "On the one hand, subjects worried about the guilt and shame they would feel if they did not help the person in distress. On the other hand, they were concerned not to make fools of themselves by overreacting, not to ruin the ongoing experiment by leaving their intercom, and not to destroy the anonymous nature of the situation which the experimenter had earlier stressed as important.... Caught between the two negative alternatives of letting the victim continue to suffer or the costs of rushing in to help, the non-responding bystanders vacillated between them rather than choosing not to respond. This distinction may be academic to the victim, since he got no help in either case, but it is an extremely important one for arriving at an understanding of the causes of bystanders' failures to help."
Darley and Latane concluded by saying that individuals are not "non-interveners" because of some flaw in their personality, but rather because responsibility is diffused. As in the murder of Kitty Genovese, isolated individuals, knowing that others were also aware of the emergency but not knowing how those others were responding, did not attempt to intervene because they did not feel personally responsible.
Darley and Latane's experiments and others inspired by the Genovese murder have led psychologists to conclude that people tend to look to others to define events. Someone who sees something that may be an emergency looks to see if other witnesses are also alarmed. If everyone seems calm or indifferent, the observer often concludes that no emergency is taking place. The group defines the event, and most people follow the spoken and unspoken norms of the group and are unwilling to risk the embarrassment-of overreacting in public.
Furthermore, even if people recognize that they are witnessing an event in which help is called for, they remain unsure who is responsible for providing that help: in a group of strangers there is no captain. Responsibility is therefore diffused, and so is the guilt felt by those who do nothing.
Psychologists are also quick to point out that helping often conflicts with norms or rules of appropriate behavior. A man escorting a woman to a dark place in a park could seem like a cause for alarm, but it is considered perverse and impolite to follow a couple into the bushes. Speaking out for a man unjustly imprisoned sounds noble in the abstract, but when that man is from one of the torturable classes, those who speak for him can expect few pats on the back.
The Chicago cases seem to speak to all of these points. It wasn't a case of five people hearing a seizure and doing nothing or acting slowly; it was a case of millions of people knowing of an emergency and doing nothing. People looked about, saw no great crusade forming, saw protests only from the usual agitators, and assumed there was no cause for alarm. Responsibility was diffused. Citizens offended by torture could easily retreat into the notion that they lived in a just world, that the experts would sort things out, that the press, prosecutors, the judiciary, the legislature, or the police department's Office of Professional Standards would take care of the matter.
Amherst professor Dr. Ervin Staub, perhaps the world's foremost authority on bystanders, has staged his own experiments designed to identify the qualities of those who help during emergencies. In one of those experiments, described in "Helping a Distressed Person: Social, Personality, and Stimulus Determinants" (a chapter in the book Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, edited by L. Berkowitz), male undergraduates filling out a questionnaire became aware of moaning coming from the next room. Some of the students believed they were working on a timed task, while others had been given no directions concerning time. If the student went into the room to discover the source of the noise, he found another male undergraduate complaining that his stomach was "killing him" and that he had run out of pills. If the subject did not investigate the noise, the allegedly ill confederate eventually entered the testing room, mentioned his ailment and his lack of pills, and asked if he could sit on a couch nearby.
Some of those who helped the ailing student were so enthusiastic that, in an attempt to get medicine at a nearby pharmacy, they ran down twelve flights of stairs rather than wait for an elevator, and one student was so fast that the experimenters didn't catch up with him until he actually got to the drugstore. Those helpers, however, were a small minority. In the sample of 122 students, 73 percent did little or nothing.
While other psychologists have had a hard time gathering results that show any correlation between personality and helping behavior, Staub found a strong correlation in this particular experiment. Subjects who valued cleanliness highly were generally less helpful. Staub interpreted this to indicate that college students "who endorse cleanliness may be highly conventional, and conventional values seem to be different from concern for others." Students who ranked ambition highly as a value were less willing to interrupt their work on the assigned task for longer periods of time (Staub believed that the more ambitious may have experienced more conflict in determining a course of action). The subjects whose personality profiles showed a significant prosocial orientation were more likely to help, but only when the circumstances permitted it: the prosocial students who believed they were working on a timed task were less responsive than those who were unconcerned about the passage of time.
Subjects who valued courage highly were more apt to initiate action in response to the moans, those who were taken with adventure and novel experiences seemed more likely to initiate help, and those who valued helpfulness tended to be more responsive when they were asked to collect a prescription.
Sunday, August 07, 2005
The Children's Project
The why is about enabling change. Syria is in a process of change - towards a market economy, towards greater democracy - and there is recognition amongst the country's leaders that you can't just propel people from old state to new if they aren't prepared for it. Politically, proper democracy needs people not just able to put a cross on a ballot form, but to engage in the political debate, to hold the executive to account, to understand the issues and implications on which they will be voting. Economically, the country needs to build a creative knowledge economy, to develop a more flexible workforce, to encourage initiative and teamwork. Socially, there needs to be a move away from reliance on the state towards individual and community responsibility, a stronger sense of citizenship and civic duty. And technologically, the nation needs to embrace the technological future, with all the risks that it may bring.
So the project is about enabling young people, through exciting hands-on, science-based experiences, to understand and appreciate themselves and the world around them. From this, we hope then to show them how they can play a part in building the future - through the careers they choose, through the contribution they make to the environment, through the choices they can make about they way they live. The project will encourage debate, foster creativity and new ways of thinking, and concentrate not just on building knowledge but on applying that knowledge to the real world. It should be an inspiring and empowering experience, but it will be cumulative and long-term.
The aim is to make the centre and its public programmes accessible to all. This will not be run on a commercial basis. The age group we are targeting is 6 to 16, although of course there will be provision for younger children. We are still at the very early stages of the project, and currently running some pilot activities in various locations around the country to evaluate content and techniques. The aim is to have the project complete and running by 2009 at the latest, so there is much to do.
Friday, August 05, 2005
Majed with flowers at Zabadani
Thursday, August 04, 2005
Saladin's Castle interior
Crac Des Chevaliers
St Simeon Basilica. Right up in the north of the country. You can see the mountains of Turkey in the distance. The story goes that St Simeon (Simon) found the chatter of visitors to his monastery distracting, so built a pillar to raise him above the hubbub. From this he would preach sermons. However, this unusual behaviour attracted even more people, so even more hubbub, so Simeon built the pillar even higher, until, by some accounts, it was 40' tall, and Simeon spent all his time there, with food being hoisted up in a basket. This holy behaviour led to him being venerated as a saint.
The one thing you won't see today in the ruins of the basilica is the pillar. Knocked over by an earthquake, it suffered from the popularity of the site with visiting pilgrims over centuries, who chipped off little pieces for keepsakes, until the pillar became no more than a stump.
View from Aleppo Citadel
Convent at Seidnaya. One of the notable and likeable things about Syria is the variety of faiths practising in the country. The convent at Seidnaya, north of Damscus, houses a Christian order of nuns, but is considered holy by Muslims as well. Various miraculous stories are attached to the convent, and it is believed to have particular powers for women hoping to conceive.
On the road
Crac Des Chevaliers
Al Azem Palace, Damascus
View from Apamea
Wednesday, August 03, 2005
Tuesday, August 02, 2005
Despite all that, Damascus has a magical attraction. In the softer light of dawn and dusk the overwhelming grey of the buildings gets washed by pink light. The Old City, split along its length by Straight Street, is a warren of rambling narrow alleys, webbed and festooned with ancient electric cables, offering glimpses into the courtyards round which the traditional Damascus houses were built. Some of the grander houses have been converted into restaurants where one can see the rich interiors restored. The scents of the spice markets fill the nostrils. In the Old City one can see a traditional emphasis on the insides of houses, with the outsides deliberately modest, which may explain in some part why modern buildings seem designed with so little care. In the Old City too can be seen a beautiful design language of pattern, proportion and colour which also seems to be absent from today's equivalents.
The city is overlooked by the face of Mount Qassioun, itself topped with an unsightly array of radio masts. In the evenings this is a place of cool breezes and so hundreds of families drive up here with a picnic, to meet friends, or to eat at one of the many establishments which run along the hillside. And to look at the view, because as the sun goes down the city becomes a shimmering carpet of lights. It's one of the things to show guests, so I've seen it now many times, but it never loses its magic.
The pleasant thing about Damascus compared, say, to the Gulf, is that there is street life, possibly too much of it even. It's teeming with people on foot, shopping, delivering, eating, going to college, wandering, hanging about. It's teeming too with a splendid mix of ancient and modern cars, horse-drawn carts, buzzing mini-trucks, cyclists who seem unable to steer straight, as well as the manic yellow taxis and white service cars. All of this co-exists only by much hooting of horns, which is the leitmotif of Damascus. People come out to eat late, usually after 10pm, and around many restaurants the air fills with the scent from nargilehs, the water-pipes that are smoked here as an accompaniment to the meal.
Things to do in Damascus in the evening are not plentiful (few cinemas, for example), so people gather to eat, drink or just wander. It's a great social gathering, where people just want to enjoy themselves. Because relatively little alcohol is consumed, there is none of the noise and aggro you find late at night in many other cities. There's a lot of tradional Arabic food on offer, usually very good, but plenty of alternatives, especially if you like pizza. I've heard about, but not yet found, a sushi restaurant here - hmm, not sure. As I've said elsewhere, it's a very relaxed atmosphere.
Monday, August 01, 2005
Some general stuff
As people come out to work on the project, their response is always the same: it's quite different from what they expected. Women from the UK often visit with feelings of caution about what they should and shouldn't wear and how they will be treated, and are surprised by how varied and tolerant life here is. Yes, you will see fully-covered women here, and many others wear headscarves, but many others don't, and jeans and t-shirts are normal. There's a great readiness to live and let live that takes some getting used to, but is a huge plus. Even in the soukhs, the attitude is easy - compared to some markets round the world with the constant "you buy, you buy" pressure, here it's much more of a social affair, where walking away empty-handed after a half hour's conversation and a cup of tea is not an issue. Eating out is easy, wine and beer are available in many places. Life, in fact, is very pleasant.
There certainly are men with machine guns. They sit or stand outside embassy buildings or diplomatic residences, some in uniform, some in suits. I noticed it for a day or two when I first arrived, now I take it for granted. There are lots of policemen as well, mainly on traffic duty where they act as some minute sort of reinforcement to the traffic lights, which otherwise are totally ignored. None of this is threatening; ordinary Syrians blithely pay no attention and just do what they want, and very soon you find yourself doing the same.
Time for work. More to come.
Aleppo citadel is rather like Edinburgh castle - it dominates the city. Inside the walls much has been destroyed but enough remains to give a vivid sense of what like inside would have been like.
Apamea is one of my favourite places. The ruined Roman colonnade (the photo above shows one end) marches for 1.5 kilometres across the hilltop. Just after we started walking its length it poured with rain and we got completely soaked and very chilled. At the other end is a little cafe where we got coffee and hot fresh-baked bread. This was May, and the countryside was vivid green.
Palmyra is one of Syria's best-known Roman sites and it is extraordinary. Not only are there extensive Roman ruins. but the tower tombs (above) and the medieval citadel (left) overlooking the whole site.
Driving - Part 1
All vehicles drive on the right. You may drive on the left side of the road straight at oncoming traffic only in the following circumstances:
- You are arguing with your passenger, or lighting a cigarette
- You are overtaking on a blind corner
- The right side of the road is too bumpy
- You are turning left into a main road and will be turning left again in less that 500 metres. In this case it makes sense to use the shorter distance
- You are a taxi driver.
You have right of way over any other traffic when:
- Your vehicle is bigger, older or more battered than anything else on the road
- You are under 16 and riding a bicycle
- You have spotted some particularly good fruit at a roadside stall
Which is what it is. It works, just, but it looks like one of those TV programmes of police footage of people doing daft things behind the wheel. There's more than enough for a complete programme in a single day of driving here.
No-one uses street names here, and no-one uses maps. So for someone coming from a
All this does not help in telling taxi drivers where to go. My technique is to memorise the names of a dozen useful landmarks and then mime directions from there. Apparently, there was a scheme to create a postcode system some years back. The planners ended up with a code thirteen digits long, and the scheme was quietly dropped.
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