Five-Year-Olds are Already Eager to Conform to the Crowd

Researchers have found that five-year-olds are not immune to the "bystander effect." It turns out, in groups, the reason why kids don't take to helping someone is because they don't think it's their responsibility. 

The “bystander effect” is one of the more curious aspects of human nature. In case you're not familiar, it's a social psychological phenomenon where individuals offer no help to someone in distress, even though other people are present. In some states, failure to come to the aid of someone in danger is a misdemeanor under the Good Samaritan law. But it's a troubling notion that you could be surrounded by people and no one would act.


Take the case of Kitty Genovese. She was raped and stabbed in New York City, and yet out of all the people who heard her cries, no one came to help.

Psychologists have determined three main reasons why people fail to act in these situations: diffusion of responsibility, following the crowd, and not wanting to stand out from that crowd. So, how and when do we start to see this bystander effect occur in children?

Jesse Singal from NYMag writes on a team of researchers, led by Maria Plötner from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, that wanted to figure out just that. They got 60 children to participate, all of them five-year-olds, and all of them just as susceptible to the bystander effect as adults.

The experiment had several scenarios with a similar setup. In each, there was always one adult experimenter in the room painting a cardboard wall and at least one child coloring. However, the study gets interesting when, in some scenarios, two kids are added to the room, but as secret confederates of the experimenter (told not to act). In the experiments meant to test the bystander effect, the two confederate kids were separated from the sight of the other child by the cardboard wall. In another, the two confederate children were not blocked off.

After the coloring started, the experimenter spilled colored water all over the table. The experimenter made a series of timed pleas for help for someone to bring her paper towels.

The results?

When the kids were alone with the adult, they were ready to help. However, the results were different when there was a crowd present. Indeed, young children are susceptible to the bystander effect. But the researchers write, “It is due not to social referencing or shyness to act in front of others but, rather, to a sense of a diffusion of responsibility.”

The researchers suggest that "interventions to promote helpfulness in bystander-type situations should address the issue of diffusion of responsibility early in development."

Philip Zimbardo, known for his 1971 Stanford prison experiment, founded the Heroic Imagination Project as a way to help everyday folks "transform negative situations and create positive change." In his interview with Big Think, he talks about two kinds of heroes: impulsive reactive and the reflective proactive:

Read more at NYMag.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock

A dark matter hurricane is crashing into Earth

Giving our solar system a "slap in the face"

Surprising Science
  • A stream of galactic debris is hurtling at us, pulling dark matter along with it
  • It's traveling so quickly it's been described as a hurricane of dark matter
  • Scientists are excited to set their particle detectors at the onslffaught
Keep reading Show less

Are we all multiple personalities of universal consciousness?

Bernardo Kastrup proposes a new ontology he calls “idealism” built on panpsychism, the idea that everything in the universe contains consciousness. He solves problems with this philosophy by adding a new suggestion: The universal mind has dissociative identity disorder.

We’re all one mind in "idealism." (Credit: Alex Grey)
Mind & Brain

There’s a reason they call it the “hard problem.” Consciousness: Where is it? What is it? No one single perspective seems to be able to answer all the questions we have about consciousness. Now Bernardo Kastrup thinks he’s found one. He calls his ontology idealism, and according to idealism, all of us and all we perceive are manifestations of something very much like a cosmic-scale dissociative identity disorder (DID). He suggests there’s an all-encompassing universe-wide consciousness, it has multiple personalities, and we’re them.

Keep reading Show less

California wildfires death toll climbs to 50

Firefighters in California are still struggling to contain several wildfires nearly one week after they broke out.

(Photo by Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images)
Politics & Current Affairs
  • Hundreds of people are still missing after three wildfires spread across Northern and Southern California last week.
  • 48 of the 50 deaths occurred after the Camp Fire blazed through the town of Paradise, north of Sacramento.
  • On Tuesday night, a fourth wildfire broke out, though it's mostly contained.
Keep reading Show less