Nav: Home

To help or not to help?

October 05, 2016

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 colours 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.
Original publication: Moussaïd, M., & Trauernicht, M. (2016)
Patterns of cooperation during collective emergencies in the help-or-escape social dilemma
Nature Scientific Reports, 6. doi:10.1038/srep33417


Related Human Development Articles:

A higher resolution image of human lung development
Researchers at CHLA provide clearer picture of how lungs develop and discover novel markers to differentiate populations of lung cells implicated in lung diseases of premature babies.
How human brain development diverged from great apes
Researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, Institute of Molecular and Clinical Ophthalmology Basel, and ETH Zurich, Switzerland, present new insights into the development of the human brain and differences in this process compared to other great apes.
Development of flexible sensors mimicking human finger skin by DGIST
Senior Researcher Changsoon Choi's team at DGIST and Dr. Sungwoo Chun at SKKU developed a new tactile sensor mimicking human skin.
Researchers identify human protein that aids development of malaria parasite
Researchers in Japan have discovered that the Plasmodium parasites responsible for malaria rely on a human liver cell protein for their development into a form capable of infecting red blood cells and causing disease.
Healthy brain development is a human right, argues Yale researcher
We know that the environment in which children and young adults are raised influences healthy brain development.
Russian scientists have determined indicators of stress development in the human body
In today's life, we often encounter situations when the organism's functions are overstrained, and the action of extreme factors causes the development of a stress response.
University of Konstanz gains new insights into development of the human immune system
Scientists at the University of Konstanz identify fierce competition between the human immune system and bacterial pathogens.
Dental study of juvenile archaic Homo< fossil gives clues about human development
Most aspects of dental development for a juvenile Homo specimen from the Pleistocene fall within the modern human range, according to research by a group of Chinese and international scientists.
Why Hong Kong, Japan and Iceland are the best countries for human development
Since its introduction in 1990, UN's Human Development Index has contributed to a better understanding of development, but has its flaws.
New measure for the wellbeing of populations could replace Human Development Index
IIASA researchers have introduced a new, simple measure for human wellbeing across countries, called the Human Life Indicator (HLI), that takes inequality into account and could replace the commonly used but error-prone Human Development Index (HDI).
More Human Development News and Human Development Current Events

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2019.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

In & Out Of Love
We think of love as a mysterious, unknowable force. Something that happens to us. But what if we could control it? This hour, TED speakers on whether we can decide to fall in — and out of — love. Guests include writer Mandy Len Catron, biological anthropologist Helen Fisher, musician Dessa, One Love CEO Katie Hood, and psychologist Guy Winch.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#541 Wayfinding
These days when we want to know where we are or how to get where we want to go, most of us will pull out a smart phone with a built-in GPS and map app. Some of us old timers might still use an old school paper map from time to time. But we didn't always used to lean so heavily on maps and technology, and in some remote places of the world some people still navigate and wayfind their way without the aid of these tools... and in some cases do better without them. This week, host Rachelle Saunders...
Now Playing: Radiolab

Dolly Parton's America: Neon Moss
Today on Radiolab, we're bringing you the fourth episode of Jad's special series, Dolly Parton's America. In this episode, Jad goes back up the mountain to visit Dolly's actual Tennessee mountain home, where she tells stories about her first trips out of the holler. Back on the mountaintop, standing under the rain by the Little Pigeon River, the trip triggers memories of Jad's first visit to his father's childhood home, and opens the gateway to dizzying stories of music and migration. Support Radiolab today at