The Curiosities of a Group

I’m currently sitting in my last Organizational Behavior class and thought I’d share a unique topic that we covered not moments ago.

We were discussing the tendencies of groups to fail as the group becomes larger. One example that the professor shared was that of someone prepared to commit suicide.

Suppose for a moment that someone is on a bridge clearly preparing to jump.
If one person were to walk by, it is very likely that they will stop and talk to the person on the bridge and encourage them to step down. As a second person comes along, one of the two people will likely go to get additional help.
As the crowd grows to about 10 people, passersby start ignoring the guy on the ledge. They just walk by.
Apparently research has shown that when the group grows to between 20-25 people, the crowd starts making comments to one another until the point is reached where members of the crowd actually start encourging the suicidal person to jump.

This is alarming and disturbing, but it’s a good thing to be able to recognize.

13 thoughts on “The Curiosities of a Group

  • 11/19/2006 at 12:32 am

    As much as I don’t encourage self destruction, think about this:

    The original group member, the founder, is the suicidal person. The original mission statement of the organization is to jump. The rest of the group, the additions, prevent this. Eventually, more people coming actually turn the situation around back to the original goal of the group.

    It’s like my man Obi-wan said, “from a certain point of view”.

  • 11/19/2006 at 3:29 pm

    I’m currently (as a super senior!) taking psychology 101, and we discussed this phenomenon awhile back while studying social psychology. It’s actually been researched quite a bit and there are sort of two different phenomenons going on:

    Bystander Effect/Bystander Apathy: Increasing numbers of people around actually decreases the likelihood that someone will help a person in danger/need.

    Diffusion of Responsibility: This is an implied reduction of personal responsibility to take action due to the presence of other people.

    Think about it…it’s a little scary how true it is. Our psych professor told us a story about a woman named Kitty Genovese who came home from work late one night and took a few minutes to get her keys out at the door of her apartment. She was attacked and assaulted, and screamed for several minutes. Neighboring lights actually came on, so clearly they heard her, but no one came to help. When the attacker saw the lights he ran off….but was able to come back HALF AN HOUR later to finish Kitty off….because no one came or called for help.

    Sorry to sound depressing, but I just thought I’d share what I knew on the topic, and like Mike said, a good thing to be aware of (plus, psych is a fascinating subject!!).

  • 11/19/2006 at 8:23 pm

    You are suggesting that perhaps the better outcome is for the suicidal person to jump and that a passerby convincing that person to come off the ledge might be doing society an injustice.

    While this is clever, I don’t think it quite works because this research says that individually, any of the crowd would work towards saving the dude. This suggests that a large majority of the group would want to succeed in bringing the suicidal guy off the ledge. The problem here is not the outcome so much as the means. When a bunch of people get together, they can’t successfully get across their individual points and will sometimes just screw themselves over.

  • 11/20/2006 at 12:49 am

    Know what would have been an easier and cheaper manner to learn this story? Watch “the boondock saints”, it’s much more fun than a lecture.

  • 11/20/2006 at 9:42 am

    A related topic is groupthink, which can be summarised thusly: people are idiots.

  • 11/20/2006 at 11:26 am

    As proved by most threads on this website.

  • 11/20/2006 at 2:14 pm

    I’m not saying that it is good to actually make the jump, but it was the original mission statement of the organization. I’m just saying how in general, when lots of people get together, goals and desires end up conflicting and things go insane.

  • 11/20/2006 at 10:36 pm

    I suspect several seperate properties are in play here:
    1. People are less likely to help with other people around because they feel less of a personal responsibility, partially because they feel more justified in shedding responsibility with others around, but also because they are less likely to feel they will receive “hero credit” in a group situation, mostly subconsciously. People want to feel good about doing something good for someone otherwise it’s not worth it on its moral merit alone.
    2. Someone likely comes along once the group reaches a certain size that either audibly or charismatically instills upon some number of the group a larger than normal nonchalance about the current situation, and it’s much easier for people to stop caring (because they stop feeling like they SHOULD care) once one person starts it.
    3. Certain people may actually intimidate the person into jumping off via “you lame sissy” comments, therefore accomplishing their goal one way or another. Either the person
    -Jumps, dies, and provides that person (and possibly others) with a real once-in-a-lifetime spectacle which instills them with a sense of supreme power over another person, OR
    -Doesn’t jump, therefore failing at yet anohter thing in life and undoubtedly attempting suicide once again, thus rendering some vindication to that individual’s need for control and power over others as before

    I’ve NEVER learned any psychology in the textbook or any other classical sense, I just know things…
    (hide your daughters)

  • 11/20/2006 at 10:59 pm

    The difference between this comment and the comments of UUIG and Roland is that theirs actually had some research behind them. Read Roland’s link to “GroupThink” it actually has researched information that helps explain this scenario.

    I also have a book on GroupThink and group theory so if you’re interested you can read that for more legitimate info.

    I’ll give you my comments on your theories tomorrow at work.

  • 11/22/2006 at 11:12 am

    Sander has some good points. The fact that he doesn’t have research backing it up doesn’t make him wrong. He just lacks evidence of being right. I think he explained the personal responsibilityissue quite nicely.

    “Never underestimate the power of stupid people in large groups.” I think Jesus had it right when he described people as sheep. Just bleating around and following the others right to the shearing. Then there are those rare individuals who can manage to think even when in a group. They don’t like to talk about those people in psych and soc. Individuality is greatly discouraged in any subject that depends upon generalizations for it’s core.

  • 11/24/2006 at 11:22 pm

    “Individuality is greatly discouraged in any subject that depends upon generalizations for it’s core.”

    Haha. Touche!
    Those are the “anomalies that just can’t be explained yet…”
    I don’t think they always can be!


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