Is man a friend to man?

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Is man a friend to man?
Is man a friend to man?

Who among us has not seen a shocking video on the Internet when passengers, while waiting for a train, calmly watch a man fall onto the rails and run over by a carriage. Why is this happening, and how are we likely to behave in this situation? This is what we tried to find out.


First, let's define the terminology. Altruism is a behavior that contributes to the fitness and survival of one person, but at the same time leads to a waste of resources (money, time, food) belonging to the helper. In essence, we are talking about actions that are detrimental to the one who is helping. But we must remember that there is reciprocal altruism. This type of help to others is based on the principle “you are for me, I am for you”. People spend their energy, time and money with an unconscious understanding that they can be helped in the future. Not a bad investment of resources when you think about it. At least it's all fair.

Kindness pleases girls

One of the founders of the synthetic theory of evolution, Theodosius Dobrzhansky, titled his essay "Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution." Altruism also makes sense from the point of view of Darwin's teachings. First, altruistic behavior is a good advertisement for the male's struggle for the attention of the opposite sex. If he allows himself to spend resources on others, then he has a lot of them. Such a male's success can be explained by the high quality of his genes, and hence his reproductive success. In addition, an altruistic male will be more inclined to take care of the female and their offspring. A somewhat primitive explanation, but it correctly conveys the essence. Second, altruism is very closely related to the degree of kinship between the one who helps and the one who is the recipient of the help. Biologists have repeatedly shown that living things are more willing to help their relatives, those who have more common genes with them. The last "biological" remark before plunging into the world of psychology: as you probably already understood, altruistic behavior is characteristic not only of humans as a species, but also of other animals. Prosocial (socially beneficial) behavior has been particularly well studied in monkeys and social insects such as ants or bees.

Why me?

A serious study of willingness to help began after the death of a certain American woman, Catherine (Kitty) Susan Genovese, on March 13, 1964. Kitty was returning home from work that night when she was attacked outside the house by a man named Winston Mosley. He stabbed her several times with a knife, but the screams of awakened neighbors scared him away. The girl, bleeding, moved to the door of the house. After a while Mosley returned, stabbed Kitty again with a knife several times and disappeared. Kitty made her way to the hallway, but the man with the knife reappeared behind her. Mosley raped Kitty and killed her. The whole tragedy lasted about half an hour. It is difficult to imagine what Catherine Genovese felt at these moments. Some time after Mosley finally left the scene of the crime, one of the residents of the house consulted with a friend on the phone and only then called the police. The cops were at the crime scene two minutes later, but Kitty was already dead. Since then, Kitty's name has gone down in history and in social psychology textbooks. The phenomenon when others see that the other is in mortal danger in front of their eyes, but do not react in any way, is called Genovese syndrome.

Scientists-psychologists began to look for reasons that would explain why some people help, while others do not.It turns out that it’s not so much a matter of our personal qualities, but of the situation itself when help is needed. Social psychologists Bibb Latane and James Dubbs conducted a series of simple experiments in the 1970s. They or their assistants dropped small objects (coins or pencils) in the elevator. When one person was traveling with them, help came in 40% of cases. If there were six passengers in the elevator, less than 20% of falling objects resonated with people. The conclusions of the experiment are clear: the more people witness the situation, the less likely it is that one of them will help you. We can say that responsibility for what happened and the need to react are shared between each eyewitness to the event. It is quite obvious that in large groups this responsibility is minimal and leads to a kind of apathy.

Keep your head down

In the case of showing initiative in a large group, another factor can also play a role - the factor of attracting attention. A person prefers to be invisible in front of a significant crowd of people. As you know, the hammer hits the very protruding nail, and therefore it is so inconvenient for us to show some kind of activity in front of others, even if it is helping a person in trouble.

Of course, the story of Catherine Genovese bears little resemblance to a coin that fell in an elevator. For this reason, the already known Bibb Latane and psychologist Judith Rodin conducted another experiment. The subjects sat in the room to fill out the questionnaires, and the female experimenter went into another room. After a while, the men heard her, standing on a chair, looking for something in the closet. Then they heard a woman's scream, the sound of a fall. All this was accompanied by groans: “My God! … Leg! I can't move!.. Knee … Help me! " It is clear that nothing like that happened to the woman: it was a tape recording. But the surprising effect of dilution of responsibility also worked here: men who filled out the questionnaires alone came to help themselves or called others in 70% of cases. Couples of men helped almost half as often. Some thought that nothing terrible had happened, others said that they did not want to put the woman in an "awkward position." Just think: "an embarrassing situation"!

Samaritans are in a hurry

Another factor that research has shown to matter is time. Experiments conducted by the American sociopsychologist Daniel Batson and his colleagues have shown that haste significantly reduces the number of altruists. As an example, consider the following experience. The scholars invited some students to talk about the life and studies of the seminarians, and others to tape short sermons on the theme of Jesus' parable of the Good Samaritan. In short, it tells how two people (a Levite and a priest) walked past a beaten and robbed traveler and only the third, a Samaritan, bandaged the man's wounds and took him to a hotel, where he left money for his upkeep. All participants in the experiment were sent to a recording studio in a nearby building. Some were told that they had to hurry because they were late, while others were told that there was enough time. On the street, at the entrance to the recording studio, there was a man who coughed and moaned. Those seminarians who were in a hurry helped him about 10% of the time. Students with enough time provided assistance almost 6 times more often than students from the first group. And these results did not depend on what the seminarian had to talk about. That is, a person went to talk about a good Samaritan, but he himself acted like a priest and a Levite from the parable, literally stepping over the person. In 1978, a group of scientists led by Batson conducted a similar study among students at the University of Kansas. The results were the same: those who were in a hurry helped much less often than those who were in no hurry.

They will figure it out themselves

In another experiment, it was investigated how the interpretation of an event affects people's willingness to help. In the parking lot, a fight was staged between a man and a woman. The reaction of passers-by very much depended on what the woman was shouting at the moment of the quarrel. If she shouted, “Leave me alone. I don’t know you!”, Then they helped her in 65% of cases, but if they heard from a woman:“Leave me alone! And why did I only marry you!”, Help came 3 times less often. The simple transfer of the conflict within the family was enough to cool the fervor of the saviors, to pacify their righteous anger. This experiment is valuable because it very well shows our willingness to be indifferent to the problem of domestic violence. We say to ourselves at such moments: “This is not our business. Their family, and, therefore, it is up to them to figure it out. " Personally, I had to witness how the police calmly relate to family conflicts, apparently hoping for marital prudence and the good spirit of the family. Unfortunately, sometimes it doesn't work.

It may seem strange why I pay so much attention to situational factors and do not say anything about the role of personality in altruism. See what influence external conditions have on people's behavior: once you find yourself alone, and you are ready to save human life and health. We often underestimate the significance of the situation for us, explaining everything by the inner qualities of people, and this is a dangerous mistake. It hides from us the possibility of an objective judgment about what is happening and cloudes our eyes. Who knows, maybe in a critical situation someone will remember these studies, and someone's life will be saved.

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