The Images of September 11, 2001 – Psychology Essay

The Images of September 11, 2001 – Psychology Essay
On September 11, 2001, two planes crashed into the World Trade Centre killing almost three thousand people. During the catastrophic moments before the twin towers collapsed, William Wik, an assistant director for a
financial services company on the 92nd floor of the

South Tower, informed his wife that he was not prepared to flee and that had to go back into the burning building to try help the remaining survivors. After the South Tower collapsed, William Wik’s body was found amongst the rubble.

The attacks on the Word Trade Centre have perhaps highlighted various instances of human endeavour of which William Wik’s willingness to intervene was one example. But why do some people appear to act so selflessly or courageously in such situations? Why would someone rush into a burning building to try and save its occupants, dive into a river to save a drowning person or help someone that had collapsed in the street?

The traditional image of a saviour who goes to the assistance of others with little regard for their safety evokes images of a heroic figure. Someone that is brave, strong, courageous and decisive. It is the image of someone that might charge into a burning building to rescue a child seen crying helplessly in the top floor window as flames engulf the rest of the building. A different but similar image of a savour would be someone in the mould of Mother Theresa – the selfless and altruistic ‘Good Samaritan’ – who instead of walking past a person in need would instead provide appropriate aid and assistance.

These images perhaps suggest that those who intervene in such situations possess personal characteristics over and above those typical to the societal norm. However, a number of studies suggest that personality type alone does not determine behaviour. Instead, consideration needs to be given to other factors, particularly situational circumstances when determining the reasons as to why a bystander will intervene.

Hartshorne and May (1929) conducted a study to measure the likelihood of children finding stories for hospitalised children, donating money to charity and giving small gifts to need children. They assumed that they were measuring the degree of a person’s ‘altruistic personality type’. Aside from weaknesses in the methodology of the experiences and the lack of consideration of other factors such as social conformity that might have affected the results, the study showed little correlation between children helping in one situation and then helping in another. Later studies by Batson, (1998); Piliavin & Charng (1990), suggest that people with high scores on personality tests of altruism are not much more likely to help that those with lower scores.

Whilst personality factors may have a bearing, studies have shown that factors other than personality eg. situation pressures, social conformity, can have a considerable bearing on whether a bystander will intervene to help someone in need.

A number of studies suggest that there are gender differences in the likelihood and extent of pro-social behaviour. Where the intervention requires a degree of heroism or there is an audience present, it would seem that men are more likely to intervene than women (Eagly & Crowly, 1986; Crowley, 1987). Men were more likely to help women, rather than other men, particularly where the woman was attractive. This may be explained in evolutionary terms on the basis that women find heroism an attractive trait in men, an attraction derived from ancestral times when men were required to be courageous to ensure survival. Whilst heroism in dangerous circumstances may decrease the risk of survival chances, it would increase the person’s attractiveness to potential partners and accordingly has remained in the gene pool.

Where the intervention required a more nurturant or long-term intervention, more women will help than men (George, Caroll, Kersnick et al 1998, McGuire 1994). This would be consistent with traditional social views as to the gender roles of men being heroic and women being nurturing or caring. Aronson 2005, suggests that cultural evidence suggests the same patterns.

Other studies have suggested that there are cultural differences in relation to a bystander inventing to help a victim. Whiting and Whiting (1975) considered the behaviour of young children between the ages of 3 and 10 from six different countries: US, Indian, Japan, Phillipines, Mexico and Kenya. Whiting and Whiting found that on one end of the scale, 100% of children in Kenya were high on empathy, whilst on the end, only 8% of children in the US were altruistic. Eisenberg and Mussen (1989) reviewed several studies and concluded that there were large differences from one culture to another. Eysenk (2000) suggests that industrialised societies such as those in the US place considerable emphasis on competition and personal success, which is likely to reduce the likelihood of co-operation and altruism. Additionally, family structures in non-industrialised cultures are likely to be such that altruistic or helping behaviour is more likely to be fostered or developed to a greater degree. The degree of altruism is also likely to be influenced by the prevailing social norm and the pressure – express or implied – to conform to those norms. Milgram (1977) suggest that person from small towns as opposed to large industrial cities are more likely to intervene to help a person in need.

The perceived characteristics of the victim are also likely to have an influence in the likelihood of a bystander intervening. Pilivian, Rodin and Pilivian (1969) conducted an experiment involving a man collapsing on the New York subway. When he smelled of alcohol and carried a bottle of alcohol, he was far less likely to be helped than we he appeared sober and carried a walking stick instead of a bottle. Piliavin et al (1975) conducted a study suggesting that where the victim had a prominent facial birthmark, the likelihood of a bystander helping reduced to 61%, whereas a far higher proportion of bystanders would intervene where the victim did not have such a birthmark. Similar results were found where an artificial blood capsule was used by the victim to give the appearance of blood.

Studies suggest that the closeness of the relationship between the person requiring help and the bystander is a factor that contributes towards the likelihood of helping (Geer & Jarmecky, 1973; Moriarity 1975, Tikker 1970) or where there is a relationship where the victim is particularly dependant on the bystander (Berkowitz, 1978).

Findings by Burnstein et al (1994) suggest that the tendency varies according to the age of the victim. Where the situation was involving a ‘life or death’ situation, the likelihood of the victim being helped generally decreased the older they were. Where the situation involved an ‘everyday situation’ rather than a ‘life or death’ situation, infants and the elderly were more likely to be helped that those who were young adults or middle aged.

The individual characteristics of the bystander will have an influence on them intervening in a particular situation. Bystanders who have relevant skills or expertise were the most likely to offer help to a victim (Huston et al, 1981).

Gaertner and Dovidio (1977) suggested that a perceived similarity between the bystander and the person requiring help can influence the likelihood of intervention. However, the degree of perceived similarity may not need so great, where the situation is one which involves a genuine emergency.

A number of studies have shown that situational factors have an influence over the likelihood of a bystander intervening. Where the situation has an ambiguous quality about it, for example, someone who may equally appear drunk or suffering from a heart attack, the likelihood of intervention is reduced (Brickman et al, 1982).

Batson et al (1978) suggested that bystanders take into account not only the perceived emergency itself, but also the task that they were undertaking when becoming aware of the emergency. In one experiment, participants were informed that they had to hurry to a destination. Of those that were told to hurry, only 10% stopped to help the victim, compared to 80% who had not been told that they had to hurry to their destination.

Where the bystander was experiencing guilt, the likelihood of intervention may be higher (McMillen & Austin, 1971; Regan 1972). There are contradictory studies as to whether positive or negative states will increase the likelihood of helping. Thompson et al (1980) suggest that negative emotional states do not always necessarily lead to helping, whereas Ibsen et al (1976) suggest that people is a positive or happy emotional state are more likely to intervene or help someone in need.

Batson (1991) put forward an empathy-altruism hypothesis to try and explain why people may go to the assistance of others. He suggests that altruistic behaviour is motivated by empathy. The greater degree of empathy, the greater the likelihood of intervention, even though it may involve some cost (or the absence of a benefit) to the person intervening. According to this hypothesis, when we observe someone in distress, two emotional reactions occur. The first is empathetic concern, and the second is our own personal distress or discomfort.

Other commentators (Cialdini et al, 1987), (Maner et al 2002) and Preston & De Waal 2002, question whether people help others purely out of altruistic concern and instead suggest that a desire to reduce their own distress in someone suffering is a factor in them intervening. According to Cialdini’s negative-state relief model, a person who experiences empathy as a result of seeing some suffering, experiences a degree of emotional distress themselves. In order to reduce their own distress, they take steps to help the person in need. Cialdini suggests that empathic concern should not lead to helping behaviour if steps are taken to remove the feelings of distress usually found with empathy.

One of most consistent findings regarding the likelihood of bystander intervention is relation to the number of bystanders perceived to be present at an emergency situation. Numerous studies have demonstrated that “an individual’s likelihood of giving help decreases as the number of other bystanders also witnessing an emergency increases” (Latané, Nida & Wilson, 1981).

This apparent ‘bystandar apathy’ was perhaps most apparent in the case of Kitty Genovese. She was stabbed to death, and though 38 people witnessed the murder from their apartments, none of them intervened. Only one person telephoned the police and that was only after considerable thought and only after he had sought the advice from a friend. The police in particular, could not understand why more people had not called the police.

Latane and Darley (1968) suggested that a person may be in a more fortunate position where there is just one bystander rather than several. In such a situation, responsibility falls on them personally to take action rather than being spread amongst many. The greater the number of bystanders, the greater the diffusion of responsibility and the less likelihood of intervention.

Latané and Darley’s (1970) subsequently put forward a decision-making model to try and explain their various findings on bystander intervention. This model involves a sequence of decisions that must be made before intervention takes place:-

Is something the matter?
Is the event or incident interpreted as one in which assistance is required?
Should the bystander accept personal responsibility?
What kind of help should be provided by the bystander?
Should the help required actually be carried out?

Piliavin et al (1981) put forward an arousal / cost-reward model to try and explain the decision making process that a bystander may adopt in deciding whether to intervene:-

Becoming aware of someone’s need for help.
Experience and degree of arousal
Interpreting cues and labeling their state of arousal
Working out the rewards and costs associated with different actions
Making a decision and acting on it.

According to Piliavin et al, the costs and rewards are arguable the most significant factor. Costs of helping could include the risk of physical harm, delay in carrying out other tasks. Rewards of helping could include praise, personal satisfaction. Costs of not helping could be guilt, self-criticism, criticism from others. Rewards of not helping would be less risk of harm and ability to continue with other activities.

In conclusion, the various studies show that whether help is given by a bystander to victim depends personal characteristics, situational factors and empathy. The effect of a bystander’s personal characteristics on their likelihood of intervening isn’t as pronounced as one might expect, although factors such as mood, social or moral values, and competence do have an influence. It would be interesting to examine situations where many or all of these influencing factors are present and assess which factors, if any, have a more dominant effect over others. However, this give to methodological and practical difficulties in assessing the weighting or influence of each factor.

Learning reflection.

I’ve found doing this assignment very difficult. No so much in the subject matter itself, but in simply having the time and space to consider all the materials and then being in the right frame of mind to think about the issues. Doing the job which I do involves something similar to writing these types of assignments – the subject matter is different but both involve wading through documents and evidence, evaluating the information and then putting together an argument. However, the job is significantly more burdensome – much more material to read, in a shorter space of time, together with other significant pressures and conflicts. More often than not, my brain is shot to pieces by the time I get home. Analysing further information perhaps results in overload. I tend to work best when I’m relaxed and have the time and space to think about the issues. Perhaps it would be easier for me to do several psychology assignments concurrently rather than consecutively with set time limits. I have to undertake several parallel streams of work concurrently as part of my job, so it wouldn’t be something new to me.

Bystander intervention has quite an interesting topic, although would seem that whatever can be said on bystander intervention has already been said in the various studies or texts on the subject.

The assignment title is quite generalised. I would have preferred to ‘drill down’ into a specific aspect of bystander intervention and focus on that. That may have provided an opportunity to be more innovative or original. Otherwise, its difficult not to simply present information that’s previously been presented by someone else. I read somewhere that when doing these types of assignments a person should evaluate and critique the various studies. Critique is all very well and good and saying for example, that a particular methodology is flawed because participants to an experiment were given ‘mood pills’ that would affect their empathy, but critique of itself is annoying unless solutions are also presented or there’s an acknowledgment or understanding as why there were difficulties in the methodology of the experiment in the first place.