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.


Another Rands In Repose gem.

Tinkering is a deceptively high-value activity. You don’t usually allocate much time to tinkering because the obvious value of tinkering is low. You don’t start tinkering with a goal in mind; you start with pure curiosity. I’ve heard about this thing, but I’ve never used it. How does this thing work? I’ve always wanted to know about more about X. Downtime is an easy time to tinker. Nothing is pressing, so these acts of mental wandering are acceptable.

This is how things get done. This is my life.

I think Dopamine is related to why I tinker. There is a definite expectation to getting something out of it. And that is all the motivation I need.

The dopamine from the ventral tegmental area… usually sends dopamine into the brain when animals (including people) expect or receive a reward. That reward might be a delicious slice of pizza or a favorite song. This dopamine release tells the brain that whatever it just experienced is worth getting more of. And that helps animals (including people) change their behaviors in ways that will help them attain more of the rewarding item or experience.

My reward is learning something about a gadget. Similar to how reading rewards me with learning about science, history, motivations, or behavior.


TED Talk: Byron to Batman

This talk resonated very deeply in part because so much of the media I consume. Of the Marvel and DC heroes, Batman and Ironman, two billionaires who are brilliant, resourceful, and psychologically broken are my idols. I love Sherlock Holmes and Frank Underwood for their insights into the frailty of human goodness. Maybe I should reconsider.

TED Talk: How reliable is your memory?

The legal system heavily relies on eyewitness testimony. The erroneous thinking is that human memory works like a movie: events are committed to an infallible permanent storage system. Instead each time we recall a memory, we recall the memory of an earlier memory. If a detail was missing, then we can fill in information. The danger is that a questioner can lead the witness to plant false information and make people absolutely certain of details that convince a jury but never actually happened. People freed by DNA evidence often were convicted by evidence heavily reliant on eyewitnesses.

Elizabeth Loftus studies false memories.

It might be interesting to control behavior to make people feel disgusted by soda or sugar and enjoy leafy green vegetables. Of course, it is also pretty ethically questionable.

TED Talk: The dangers of “willful blindness”

… a term used in law to describe a situation in which a person seeks to avoid civil or criminal liability for a wrongful act by intentionally putting him or herself in a position where he or she will be unaware of facts that would render him or her liable.


Another Margaret Heffernan TED Talk based her book Willful Blindness: Why We Ignore the Obvious at Our Peril. People sometimes avoid conflict by going out of their way not to know information that is ethically questionable. Whistleblowers are a unique breed of people who care so much about an institution they want to save it through their actions.

P.S. The other Heffernan TED Talk video I posted is Dare to disagree posted last week.

TED Talk: Dare to disagree

I live my work life with the daring mindset to prove my ideas wrong. And I gather around me others willing and capable of doing the same. It is the best way to get things right. It takes an appreciation for the ability to disagree. It takes collegiality in conflict, debate, and willingness to solve the problem. Consensus is good AFTER everyone has worked through the problems and actually solved them. Not fighting about what is wrong and getting moved or moving others probably means there are bad ideas not yet identified which will later rise up later and burn everyone involved. In my mind it is better to identify those things and correct them early in the process rather than later when it might be too late.

“Openness is not the end. It is the beginning.”


IBM Watson Personality Insights

Back in 2010, I did a post on I Write Like which reported the author most similar to a writing sample. I gave it several samples for which it gave me several different authors. The trend I noticed was the topic of the sample seemed to predict the result.

IBM Watson Personality Insights :

uses linguistic analytics to extract a spectrum of cognitive and social characteristics from the text data that a person generates through blogs, tweets, forum posts, and more.

It matches keywords in the writing to the Big 5 personality test and gives a summary based on it. So, it should be easy to skew too. I was able to find pieces of text from my blog that skewed the scores for all five measures. So, just like the other one, which samples I give it determines my “personality.” Something like FiveLabs’ Facebook Analyzer where it is looking at all or at least a huge sample of my writing probably would work better.

Read more

Better Mindset

A while ago I posted a review about the book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck. The message of the book, I think, is critically important, but the book wasted my time with too many anecdotes and testimonials which are a taboo in science writing. The good parts remain where Dweck wrote about her own and others’ research and application of it in this area. If it had stuck with that I’d have given it 4 stars instead of 2.

In the review I suggested “The Inverse Power of Praise” chapter of NurtureShock (Bronson and Merryman) as an alternative. Well, The Secret to Raising Smart Kids written by Dweck is another good alternative.

Here Carol condenses Mindset to something any parent or teacher can read. It focuses on the research and how to put it into practice.

Not long ago, I noticed someone praised me for self-correcting. Specifically he like I noticed where I was doing it wrong and changed to resume the correct form. So I got to explain Mindset and praise his process of observation and reward. It got more than a little meta.

Review: Mindset: The New Psychology of Success

Mindset: The New Psychology of Success
Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol S. Dweck
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I wanted to learn more about how to use the growth mindset. I personally tend to fall too much into the fixed mindset. Only this book fell too much into the Self-Help traps:

  • “This is how I am. What worked for me.” Or other individuals Carol advised. Only, the readers are not Carol and are not the benefitting from mistakes. I am doubtful of magical cases where a single sentence or paragraph magically changed everything.
  • Testimonials in a book are like an author on Amazon writing his own reviews. Only the positive results are indicated. Which, is funny given the growth mindset being advocated in this book is about learning from mistakes. Yet the author’s mistakes in this work are hidden.

I spent too long frustrated by the Self-Help nature of the first 300 pages to enjoy it. Read the first chapter of NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children (book) instead and the last chapter of this book.

View all my reviews

TED Talk: How common threats can make common (political) ground

Haidt writes and talks about Moral Psychology. This is third of his TED Talks I will post here.

I liked this one because I agree we are capable of working together even when we have differences. Getting past those differences? There is the accomplishment.

If the video below does not load, then try Jonathan Haidt: How common threats can make common (political) ground.