Diffusion of Responsibility

You see, this experiment works when the sight of an elderly man with cheek pressed on the dust-sprinkled pavement and limbs splayed in all 4 directions is a rare one. In a place where poverty, and consequently suffering, is as commonplace as is polluted air, no one bats an eye at the sight of a fellow countryman in distress.

Is the root of the problem at the psychological concept of the diffusion of responsibility, or because we are so habituated to the view?

During the initial experiment, confederates wore the demeanor of someone experiencing grave hardship and despair and is thus spread out across the walkway. The goal in mind was to see how people reacted to each of the type of confederates differing in visible status; one appeared to be a corporate employee whereas the other one a homeless man. To replicate this might almost be an offensive mockery where I live.

Having seen at least one such individual—suffering—on any given day, this person not being a dummy, mind you, it’s not difficult to infer the number that could be disseminated throughout the country. There is no need for someone to play the sufferer when there exists such a sizeable amount already. It may be that during the onset of the socioeconomic divide, the birth of the homeless, that people may have been at least the slightest bit confounded, but that is definitely not the case today. Swiftly evading puddles of water so as to preempt any stains on the new kicks, or smiling to oneself in the midst of posting a clever tweet, we pass by so many people. Bottom of their feet calloused from all that they don’t have, they lie uncomfortably, knowing no one will move an ounce directed at helping.

Why does this happen? Is it truly that we think someone else will be the one to help, as proposed by the concept of the diffusion of responsibility? If so, wouldn’t we at least do a double-take, prying our eyes off our screens and onto the lack of altruism that sits on the concrete we walk on? Or is it that we are so used to this that we have lost hope, now exhibiting learned helplessness? In that case we would have to contemplate whether it us, the privileged, that feel helpless in providing help, or those suffering that feel helpless in propelling their lives forward. It was interesting to see that there were at least a few that had a reaction and consequently took an action towards helping the dummies in the English experiment. I ponder what would be the outcome of such a study undertaken here, in a third-world country.

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