Diffusion of Responsibility Through Facebook


Nice post from a student who took PSY 13 a year ago, exploring diffusion of responsibility as it occurs on-line (and here at Tufts).  With the (anonymous) student’s permission, I’m re-posting it below.  Take a look and let us know your reactions.

Group text messages and Facebook groups provide a very unique forum to observe passive group interactions.  Recently, I have been noticing a very interesting trend in the Facebook group for my dorm.  Prior to coming to Tufts as freshman, the group was full of posts regarding living situations and quality of life in the hall.  The majority of posts had many responses, as all the incoming freshman were very excited about the upcoming year.  However, as the year has gone on, posts on the group have generally devolved into people posting about events going on around campus or people asking for help or wishing to borrow things.

In the past week alone, there have been three posts with kids asking to borrow items for short periods of time.  One post was about an RCA cable, another for a pair of crutches, and finally one to borrow an iron.  Despite our dorm having hundreds of kids in it, not a single person responded to the posts in a helpful manner.  Some kids who were friends with the poster commented with a joke or some sarcastic response, but no one offered any help.  This situation corresponds to step three in the five steps to helping: assuming responsibility.  Almost all 400 kids passed the first step when they read the post, meaning they noticed what was going on.  Furthermore, most kids also interpreted the situation as one where someone needed or was requesting help, thus passing step two (even if the situation was not an emergency).

Step three, assuming responsibility, is where things start to get interesting from a social psychology perspective.  There are people in the dorm with an RCA cable, crutches, and an iron.  Nonetheless, in such a large group setting, no one offered his or hers up.  This is because of diffusion of responsibility.  In a group of hundreds, people naturally assume that someone else will volunteer to help.  However, when everyone approaches the situation in this manner, no one helps.

In my opinion, because this situation occurs with the security and anonymity of the Internet, the normal diffusion of responsibility is exacerbated to an extreme degree. Over the Internet, people have a convenient excuse if they are subsequently confronted about why they didn’t help.  It is very easy to claim that you just did not see the post, or perhaps didn’t read it carefully when you saw it.  Obviously diffusion of responsibility still occurs in person, but there is slightly more accountability in person as compared to when someone is behind a computer screen.

The final thing to consider with regards to this situation is how they ended up being resolved.  In each situation, the person who needed to borrow something ended up simply walking around the hall knocking on doors asking people directly.  Partly because this removed the group factor, and partly because this removed the anonymity factor, everyone ended up getting what was needed relatively quickly.  In the case of the iron, where dozens of people had them, it would not have made sense why no one volunteered theirs without understanding diffusion of responsibility.  With regards to these particular situations, I did not have any of the desired items, and therefore could not help.  However, as we were discussing this topic in class, these Facebook posts immediately came to mind, as they are such a blatantly obvious example of diffusion of responsibility.

Posted in Bystander Effect, Chapter 11, Tufts | 15 Comments

On Correlations and Causation

from http://xkcd.com/552/

As you heard in our second lecture (and, undoubtedly, have heard before in previous courses in Psychology and other scientific fields), just because a correlational relationship emerges between variables in a study does not mean we know anything regarding the causal relationship between those variables.

Check out this popular media write-up of a research study.  The title of the web piece is Bullied Kids Averse to Exercise and it describes a relationship between bullying and decreased physical activity (i.e., a negative correlation).

The topic here is interesting to begin with, as bullying certainly has social psychological antecedents and implications.  But let’s just focus on research methods for the time being.  Any problems with the way the research findings are described in the story on outsideonline.com?  That is, does the web piece offer conclusions that are appropriate based on the type of study being addressed?  What do you think?

Posted in Chapter 2, Media, Research Methods, Research Study | 9 Comments

PSY 13, Louis CK-Style

Jerry Seinfeld and friends (see first lecture) are not the only comedians wise to the power of situations.  Check out the clip below; Louis CK summarizing our entire semester of PSY 13 in just 3 (sometimes vulgar, so language warning) minutes:


Driving is a great example of a common daily situation in which we change the way we’d ordinarily think and behave.  Can anyone come up with other good examples to get us started this semester?  Comment away and share some ideas below…

Posted in Chapter 1, Comedy, Power of Situations | 31 Comments

Welcome to the PSY 13 Class Blog

Welcome to the class blog for the Summer 2 2016 semester of PSY 13!

As you’ll hear more about when you watch the first lecture (and read the syllabus), one of the objectives for this course is for you to start thinking about the world around you in social psychological terms.  We’ll pursue this goal in a variety of ways: pondering psychological solutions to real-world problems, viewing various aspects of pop culture through a social psychological lens, and also via your own blogging (more details regarding your personal blog for PSY 13 to come during the second lecture of the semester).

This class blog will be yet another way in which we devote attention to how social psychological principles are playing themselves out in the world around us.  I also hope it will give us the opportunity for some instructor/student and student/student interaction that will otherwise feel missing given the on-line nature of the course.

So over the six weeks to come, be prepared to check this blog regularly.  Multiple times each week I’ll be posting news stories, youtube clips, and other useful examples for thinking about the concepts we’re studying in this course and for stimulating discussion among us.  You’re encouraged to comment on these posts (and on the comments of your fellow students). In fact, you’re required to comment on a post once per week, as well as to comment on the comment of one of your classmates once per week, but you’re encouraged to do so even more frequently as well. The same rules that apply to classroom discussion apply– please make sure to be respectful in responding to what other people have to say, even if you’d like to raise an opposing viewpoint.

You’re also encouraged to send me any stories, links, videos, or other interesting stuff that you find and think would make for good PSY 13-related conversation; I’d love to devote posts to materials that you identify and send along.  You can also submit your own original posts to the course blog as well. And who knows, you just might see some of the examples and information posted on this blog finding their way on to our exams in some capacity (hint, hint).

Again, welcome to PSY 13, and make sure to check back regularly!

Posted in Chapter 1 | Leave a comment