The Bystander Effect

I am seeing more and more where people are complaining about the filming of an attack and not intervening in it. People are claiming they would do something. But… I suspect many of the people who film these events without intervening think beforehand they would do something too.

Why they do not intervene is pretty well studied.

How could people just stand by and watch something this horrible happen to a young, innocent girl? Some have suggested that the eyewitnesses’ failure to report the incident likely resulted from a concern over being labeled as a snitch. Although this is possible, social psychological research on the bystander effect suggests a different cause – there were too many eyewitnesses present. The bystander effect refers to the fact that people are less likely to offer help when they are in a group than when they are alone. Research on this effect was inspired by a real-world account that seems hauntingly similar to the recent event in Richmond.

Why Do We Help Less When There is a Crowd?: Less is More When it Comes to Bystanders. Burkley, Melissa. Psychology Today. Nov 04, 2009

One of the pieces is in the assessment of the situation. We tend to look to how others are reacting to a situation to decide whether to intervene. If no one else is, then we likely will not either. The fewer other witnesses there are, the less the inaction of others plays into our own. The article makes a great example of asking questions. I see it all the time where if the leaders do not ask, then no one else is.

The other piece is in how people feel responsibility. When there is a single person present, they feel wholly responsible. When there are more attending the event, that feeling diffuses among the additional people. With say, 10 people, each only feels about 10% responsible. A crowd watching an event is less likely to feel responsible for a negative outcome than a single person.

In the claims about being willing to act, I bet they all think of the scenario in terms of themselves being the sole witness to it where they would have to assess it without consideration of anyone else’s inaction causing them not to intervene and also where they would feel wholly responsible. I doubt any consider it from the more likely standpoint of there being multiple people in attendance and the Bystander Effect takes place.

Trump’s best shot at reelection is false-consensus effect

Thinking back to Obama’s campaign for reelection, I recall much talk about how incompetent, evil, and terrible a president he was from his opposition. Not Romney directly but the his likely voters on social media. To the point of Romney feeling moral obligation to defend Obama as not that bad of a person to his own voters. There were daily negative stories about Obama culminating in Benghazi.

Depending on where you sat, most people agreed with either his incompetence or shrewdness. This agreement blinds us to reality.

false-consensus effect

the tendency to assume that one’s own opinions, beliefs, attributes, or behaviors are more widely shared than is actually the case. A robustly demonstrated phenomenon, the false-consensus effect is often attributed to a desire to view one’s thoughts and actions as appropriate, normal, and correct

APA Dictionary

During this time of pandemic, I am seeing a spinning up of negative social media posts about Trump from his opposition. (Even worse than when I wrote Gotcha jerks part I & part II) And an equally defensive amount from his party members. My guess is he will get about the same turnout if this continues just from voters being upset at his unfair* treatment by the opposition.

* Unfair: they will think no one deserves that harsh treatment. Nevermind Obama and Hillary got the same level.

Sharing links that mock a caricature of the Other Side isn’t signaling that we’re somehow more informed. It signals that we’d rather be smug assholes than consider alternative views. It signals that we’d much rather show our friends that we’re like them, than try to understand those who are not.

The ‘Other Side’ Is Not Dumb

I suspect these attacks make Trump’s opposition think good people in no way can justify voting for him. Even as his supporters think only deplorable people would vote against him given these attacks. Both a walking blind. Because we have defined ourselves by our political beliefs.

Perhaps the two most important things to know about the false consensus effect have to do with its potency.  First, false consensus effects still exist for important or self-defining beliefs.  Second, neither education about the false consensus itself nor large rewards for accuracy seem to eliminate the false consensus effect.  This bias is hard to eliminate.   

Your opinions are not as popular as you think they are

Then there are the bots agitating both sides making this effect worse by polluting the newsfeeds with more people agreeing. It is just a mess. And few seem aware of just how they are being manipulated by their biases.

Juggling Social Roles in Social Media

Browncoat (from show Firefly) polo
Juggling the dual role of worker bee and geek by wearing a business casual geek shirt

Sociology has a concept of us holding multiple social roles. At home, I am both a husband and a father. With relatives, I am a son, nephew, or cousin. At work, I am a supervisee, mentor, subject matter expert, or organization historian. Things get a bit more undefined out in the wider world, but I hold social roles out there too.

Each of these social roles vary in the expectations of behavior. So, our behavior may vary depending on which role we are occupying at a given time. And, even more interesting is when we have to juggle multiple social roles AT THE SAME TIME for the first time. The more experience we attain at doing something, the better we get at figuring out the constraints and minefields in a situation.

The human brain devotes a large amount of processing to managing the information about the behavior of others to determine trust. And also ensuring our own behaviors are trustworthy. (You’ve read my prior stuff on Dunbar, right? 1, 2)

Perhaps part of the stress inducing nature of social media is the mixing of these social roles? A giant social network like Facebook means having a variety of relatives, coworkers, and friends mixing in the same spaces. People who come from different backgrounds, political viewpoints, education levels, interests, and levels of restraint. Navigating all this probably generates a ton of stress.

If so, then we need more segmentation.

  1. Limit coworkers to more work appropriate social networks like LinkedIn.
  2. Join topic groups and post content related to it there. To talk about politics, join groups that discuss it. (Be careful to avoid echo chamber groups.)
  3. A private place to discuss more openly with friends. Maybe a private twitter account, a private Facebook group, group chat, etc.
  4. A private place to discuss more openly with family.

TED Talk: The story of ‘Oumuamua, the first visitor from another star system | Karen J. Meech

In October 2017, astrobiologist Karen J. Meech got the call every astronomer waits for: NASA had spotted the very first visitor from another star system. The interstellar comet — a half-mile-long object eventually named `Oumuamua, from the Hawaiian for “scout” or “messenger” — raised intriguing questions: Was it a chunk of rocky debris from a new star system, shredded material from a supernova explosion, evidence of alien technology or something else altogether? In this riveting talk, Meech tells the story of how her team raced against the clock to find answers about this unexpected gift from afar.

TED Talk: How to take a picture of a black hole | Katie Bouman

A talk on how the process would work presented a couple years ago. Interesting how closely the actual image matches the reconstruction before they did it.

At the heart of the Milky Way, there’s a supermassive black hole that feeds off a spinning disk of hot gas, sucking up anything that ventures too close — even light. We can’t see it, but its event horizon casts a shadow, and an image of that shadow could help answer some important questions about the universe. Scientists used to think that making such an image would require a telescope the size of Earth — until Katie Bouman and a team of astronomers came up with a clever alternative. Bouman explains how we can take a picture of the ultimate dark using the Event Horizon Telescope.

What I’ve learned over the past year

A friend asked me this last night and my unprepared answer was all over the place, but I think in retrospect there was a theme. I was aware that being a parent changes the brain in the abstract. I was unprepared for the experience for how hard it hits.

Think the stepson being only a few years from being an adult gave me false expectations. He wants to be treated as a responsible adult, so I try to both hold him accountable for his behavior while explaining a big part of being an adult is sacrificing whim and short-term fun for long-term gain.

Being the father of a tiny helpless human is completely different. And her transition into taking agency and navigating how to balance them has me constantly on my toes. It has completely shifted my world view in places. And I am sure that some decisions over the past year have been completely different due to this shift.

So, this past year has been a lesson on how psychology textbooks are not completely full of abstract bullshit.

Dream: Airbender gone wrong

This was one of those being chased dreams. Everyone has superpowers. Mine? If I move too fast in a single direction a glowing, writhing ball of explosives developed in front of me. My superpower was pulling the hydrocarbons out of the air to make an aerosol TNT. But only in front of me. If I timed it just right, then it would develop enough into an explosive and fall to the ground when I changed direction and explode in the face of whatever it was that was chasing me.

ʻOumuamua images and representation

Artists_impression_of_ʻOumuamua
By ESO/M. Kornmesser

I ran across this image of the interstellar asteroid. It struck me that I recognize an artist’s impression as the actual representation of the object. Because we do not have an actual photo, an artist made something. And yet, to me, it IS the asteroid enough that when I see the impression photo, I think it is.

It started to bother me that my brain has become so tricked, but I think I am about to get over it. We do this all the time. When I think of a very generic term like cat, my current cat comes to mind. Even if I go for an animal I have never seen before in person, then I think of an image of one or something similar. Being visual creatures, images are how we think, so we need something like an impression to recognize it.

Happiness is the truth

Because I’m happy; Clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth

I occasionally review how I am using social media. For years now, I worry about how I leverage social signaling. (read more) There is an awareness of the temptation to make myself appear more successful than I am. And that excessive signaling on social media contributes to chronic depression.

When I see friends posting a lot of happiness, I start to wonder if they are actually depressed. Is that smile genuine? Are the eyes engaged in that smile?

Some comments about how my family looks so very happy put in front of my face: are we? Yeah, we really are. Sure, we have challenges like everyone. But, on balance, I love the life I have and find it so much more fulfilling than my life a few years ago.