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Black Friday Bystanders And The Diffusion Of Responsibility

or No One Raindrop Thinks It Caused The Flood


Almost every year we hear about scenes of consumer chaos and lunatic stampedes as shoppers knock each other down while trying to snatch up quality deals on Black Friday. This year an unfortunate man in New York was trampled to death in a Wal-Mart by a bastard herd of sub-humans who didn’t even look back at his body after they crushed him to death with their very nice shoes.

They have to be sub-humans, right? That’s the only way we can rationalize something like this. This has to be a one-of-a-kind incident where a group of sociopaths were all at the same place at the same time. Real, well-adjusted people would have stopped and helped that man. You would have taken charge of that situation and helped that poor man up and scolded the people who didn’t. Everyone thinks that. But no one ever does that.

This is one of the dark secrets of the human mind. It’s in all of us, the potential for this kind of disgusting, deadly apathy is part of every single human being. It’s been shown time and time again: the death of Kitty Genovese, where a dozen neighbors heard a woman screaming as she was stabbed to death, but did nothing; the Milgram experiment, the famous study which showed that average people will give what they believe to be fatal electric shocks to a person as long as another person in authority tells them it’s ok; the stampedes of Black Friday which happen almost every year and almost always end up with some poor unfortunate person trampled underfoot, although not usually killed; and, of course, the Nazi’s rise to power in Germany, the most striking example, where a whole country of seemingly ordinary people followed along with it’s leaders brutal “politics”, and did nothing while six million Jews were killed.

In psychology, these things are called diffusion of responsibility or the Bystander effect. In economics, there’s a similar effect called the Tragedy of the Commons. It’s a well-known problem of the human experience and it’s important that we look at it directly and realize it’s there so we can attempt to avoid it in the future.

Advertising is all about influencing the crowd, and the more you learn about it, the more you realize how easily the crowd is influenced. Use this knowledge to avoid the perils of conformity and obedience. Take responsibility for what happens around you, don’t fall for these cognitive diseases. You’re better than that. If just one person would have stopped to help that fallen man at Wal-Mart, maybe it would have inspired another, and another, and then the people who didn’t help would have felt the pull of conformity drawing them to actually help. In situations like that, one knowledgeable person can make a difference. That person can be you.