Two dramatic incidents have ties to both social and personality psychology:
Beachgoers saw a family in trouble and after a short time 70 or so of them formed a human chain to bring them to safety.
5 teen boys watch a man drown, take a video of the incident and make fun of him. None of them even called 911.
These are two very different incidents, but here are a connections from psychological theory:
1. Lack of a skilled and extroverted role model: the beach had one key factor going for it: swimmer Jessica Simmons who said in her Facebook post:
“These people are not drowning today,” Jessica Simmons thought, she told the Panama City News Herald. “It’s not happening. We’re going to get them out.”
She was a strong swimmer and fearless in the face of adversity.1
So while the police did not act at the beach, there was a strong role model (Extraversion on the Big 5 personality model) who made it clear that nothing was going to stop her from helping. There was no role model at the beach. Erik Erikson might say that Ms. Simmons helped because she's in the Generativity stage, whereas the teenage boys are in the Identity vs. Role Confusion stage.
The oldest boy was the role model: the oldest boy was very involved in the taunting of the drowning man. The younger boys were probably using him as their model of what to do - and not do.
2. Lack of Empathy: we are more likely to help people when we can empathize with their predicament. We see from the fact that the teen boys taunted and laughed at the drowning man that there was no empathy for his predicament. Why not? There may have been marijuana involved, which could have dulled their sense of empathy.
3. Moral Perspective: perhaps this is a place to discuss Carol Gilligan's contribution to our thoughts regarding morality: women - like Jessica Simmons - tend to be more oriented toward strengthening the connections between people more so than about what Kohlberg would suggest for the boys at the lake (their only concern is about whether they could get in trouble for what they're doing).
Other reasons? I'd be happy to read your thoughts in the comment area below.
NOTE: Cengage is committed to helping psychology instructors bring life events like this one into the classroom. Feel free to use this material as you wish, though a link to this site is appreciated.
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Martinez said that when the teens were interviewed, one had no remorse at all. She said, “There was no remorse, only a smirk.” She said, “The kids were at the park that day smoking marijuana and apparently saw him walk into the water. He walked in on his own. They were watching him. They just started recording what happened and watched until he died. Everybody is just horrified by this.”2