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Why Groups of People Don't Help Accident Victims (And What To Do About It), Part 2

In Why Groups of People Don’t Help Accident Victims (And What To Do About It), Part 1, we looked at the phenomenon of groups of people who fail to stop and render aid to those that need help.    The conclusion reached by professor Dr. Robert Cialdini is not that people are uncaring, unkind or don’t want to help.  Instead, he concludes that groups don’t help because of the psychological principle of social proof. 

When we are uncertain about whether someone is hurt, we look to others’ actions to see how we should act.  When others don’t help, we don’t help.  Thus, a person in an accident is more likely to get help when one person is around than when multiple people are around.

So what can we do if we’re in an accident to make sure we get help?

Strangely, Dr. Cialdini found himself in exactly that situation.  He was involved in a car wreck.  As he knelt in the road beside his door, the light changed, and the waiting cars began to slowly drive by.  Drivers gawked, but didn’t stop to help.  He was suddenly the victim of the phenomenon he studied.

To stop this, Dr. Cialdini notes that the key to not being a victim is to realize that most bystanders who don’t help are just unsure of whether there is an emergency and, if there is, what their responsibilities should be.

He suggests that you not allow the bystanders to decide that your situation is not an emergency.  You need to use the word “help” to make sure the bystanders know that it’s not an emergency.

But you must do more than that. You must also answer their other uncertainties about how they should respond.  Dr. Cialdini suggests picking out a particular person.  Stare, speak, and point directly at that person.  For example, “You, sir, in the blue jacket.  I need help.  Please call an ambulance.”   With such action, the studies suggests that you’ll get a quick, effective response.

Dr. Cialdini tried to follow his own advice in his wreck.  He says that he stood up so that he could clearly be seen and pointed directly to one driver, asking that driver to call the police.  He then pointed to two other drivers and asked them to pull over to help.

The response was immediate.  They summoned the police, helped blot blood from his head, volunteered to serve as witnesses, and even offered to ride in the ambulance with him to the hospital.

And their assistance was contagious.  As others saw that it was an emergency, they stopped and tended to the other victim. 

This time, social proof was working for them as it appeared that the proper thing to do was to stop and help.

So, heaven forbid you’re in an accident, but if you are, take Dr. Cialdini’s advice to heart to make sure that you get the help you need.

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