Tuesday, August 16, 2005


Diffusion of responsibility 2

Darley and Latané set out five development stages for helping (individually responsible) behaviour:
  1. You must notice an event is happening
  2. You must interpret the event as one requiring help
  3. You must assume personal responsibility
  4. You must decide what action to take
  5. 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.


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