Friday, June 18, 2010

Kitty would have survived in Ghana...

The bystander effect is a curious social phenomenon that is commonly illustrated by the murder of Kitty Genovese in Queens, New York. The story goes that Kitty was being attacked and stabbed to death in front of her apartment complex and all of the residents just stood and watched. No one came to her rescue and no one called for help. This social phenomenon is believed to occur when responsibility is diffused through a large group. Every single individual assumes that he or she is not directly responsible to act because someone else in the group will take action, leading to collective inaction. SuperFreakonomics discusses the validity of the Kitty story to illustrate the bystander effect. But, I’ll ignore this controversy for the purposes of this post.

Yesterday, I witnessed a remarkable event that proves that if Kitty was attacked in Ghana, she would have survived. On my drive to Agroyseum, we saw a construction truck flipped over off the side of the road. We slowed down just like the drivers around us demonstrating rubbernecking. But, we were not just slowing down, we were stopping. All of the cars around us were also stopping--buses, taxis, personal cars, other construction vehicles, and tro-tros (large vans transporting people) all pulled over. At first, I thought everyone was pulling over to get a better look at the accident. But, people were not just looking. In seconds, a crowd of men gathered around the truck and were pushing it to free the trapped driver underneath. After pulling the driver out from under the truck, they stopped an incoming taxi and carried the injured truck driver into the taxi with specific orders to the hospital. Once the situation looked like it was under control, we climbed back into our car and were back on the road.

If I was driving alone, what would I have done? I’d slow down to take a peak. I would not stop. I wouldn’t even dial 911. I would just continue driving and assume that someone had already alerted the appropriate authorities and that help was on the way. I don’t have my MD yet, so I can’t possibly be of any help. The Ghanaians have made me feel like a horrible person. This sense of responsibility to all humanity is something we could and should learn from the Ghanaians.

1 comment:

  1. Of course if this had happened in the USA, the police and an ambulance would have been there and done the same thing probably without bringing a complete stop to traffic.

    The Kitty Genovese story is often cited as an example of the bystander effect, but in reality the police were called by the residents. The story was apparently exaggerated by the media. ( Nevertheless, the bystander effect has been shown to real phenomenon by several studies.