Summary: A new study reports readiness to help in an emergency situation depends heavily on your personality.
Source: Max Planck Institute.
In emergency situations do people think solely of themselves? In a study published in Nature Scientific Reports, researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development have shown that readiness to help depends heavily on personality. The results show that most people would help others in emergency situations, some of them even more so than in harmless everyday situations.
It is said that people show their true colors in times of adversity. In a recently published study, scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development have found that extreme conditions bring out the good in people as well as the bad. In their experiments, prosocial and altruistic people in particular often helped others even more in an emergency situation than in a relaxed and non-threatening situation, whereas selfish participants became less cooperative. “Emergency situations seem to amplify people’s natural tendency to cooperate,” says Mehdi Moussaïd, researcher in the Center for Adaptive Rationality at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development.
The researchers invited 104 participants act out scenarios in a computer game that they developed specifically for the experiment. In this “help-or-escape dilemma game,” participants under time and monetary pressure had to decide whether they were willing to risk taking time to help others before reaching their goal or saving themselves in two different situations—one everyday and one emergency situation. After the game, the researchers measured participants’ social value orientation—that is, their concern for others—and categorized them as having a prosocial or individualistic profile.
The first scenario was an everyday situation in a train station. The players’ goal was to catch a train. The time available for the game was 60 seconds. Participants who succeeded in catching the train won a bonus of 1 euro; there was no penalty in case of failure. On their way to the platform, the participants met eight other travelers who each needed help finding their own train. Participants chose between a button to help or a button to end the game (“escape”), which in reality would have corresponded to heading directly to the train platform. Whether they would succeed in catching their train in time, however, was determined at random by the computer, depending on the point at which participants left the game. Ending the game early increased the chances of success. The more people they helped and the more time elapsed, the lower the participants’ chances of winning the game.
The second scenario was an emergency situation in a train station. After an explosion, participants had to leave the building as quickly as possible. This time, they only had 15 seconds to escape, and they risked losing 4 euros if they didn’t make it out of the building in time. There was no bonus in case of success. To emphasize the alarming nature of the situation, the researchers added a red blinking frame to the computer screen. Here again, participants encountered eight other travelers who were each in need of help, and the procedure was otherwise the same as in the first scenario.
Overall, participants helped others less in the emergency situation because of the time pressure they were under. However, when the researchers focused on individual participants, they found that many of those categorized as prosocial were more helpful in the emergency situation: 44% of them were more ready to help in the emergency than in the everyday situation. The opposite was true of participants categorized as individualistic, 52% of whom reduced their cooperative behavior in the emergency situation.
“Our game-based approach offers a new way of studying human cooperation and could help authorities to manage crowd behaviors during mass emergencies,” says Mehdi Moussaïd.
About this psychology research article
Source: Kerstin Skork – Max Planck Institute Image Source: NeuroscienceNews.com image is in the public domain. Original Research: Full open access research for “Patterns of cooperation during collective emergencies in the help-or-escape social dilemma” by Mehdi Moussaïd and Mareike Trauernicht in Scientific Reports. Published online September 15 2016 doi:10.1038/srep33417
[cbtabs][cbtab title=”MLA”]Max Planck Institute. “To Help or Not? Emergency Situations Amplify Tendencies to Behave Egotistically or Prosocially.” NeuroscienceNews. NeuroscienceNews, 29 September 2016. <https://neurosciencenews.com/ego-prosocial-emergency-behavior-5153/>.[/cbtab][cbtab title=”APA”]Max Planck Institute. (2016, September 29). To Help or Not? Emergency Situations Amplify Tendencies to Behave Egotistically or Prosocially. NeuroscienceNew. Retrieved September 29, 2016 from https://neurosciencenews.com/ego-prosocial-emergency-behavior-5153/[/cbtab][cbtab title=”Chicago”]Max Planck Institute. “To Help or Not? Emergency Situations Amplify Tendencies to Behave Egotistically or Prosocially.” https://neurosciencenews.com/ego-prosocial-emergency-behavior-5153/ (accessed September 29, 2016).[/cbtab][/cbtabs]
Patterns of cooperation during collective emergencies in the help-or-escape social dilemma
Although cooperation is central to the organisation of many social systems, relatively little is known about cooperation in situations of collective emergency. When groups of people flee from a danger such as a burning building or a terrorist attack, the collective benefit of cooperation is important, but the cost of helping is high and the temptation to defect is strong. To explore the degree of cooperation in emergencies, we develop a new social game, the help-or-escape social dilemma. Under time and monetary pressure, players decide how much risk they are willing to take in order to help others. Results indicated that players took as much risk to help others during emergencies as they did under normal conditions. In both conditions, most players applied an egalitarian heuristic and helped others until their chance of success equalled that of the group. This strategy is less efficient during emergencies, however, because the increased time pressure results in fewer people helped. Furthermore, emergencies tend to amplify participants’ initial tendency to cooperate, with prosocials becoming even more cooperative and individualists becoming even more selfish. Our framework offers new opportunities to study human cooperation and could help authorities to better manage crowd behaviours during mass emergencies.
“Patterns of cooperation during collective emergencies in the help-or-escape social dilemma” by Mehdi Moussaïd and Mareike Trauernicht in Scientific Reports. Published online September 15 2016 doi:10.1038/srep33417