Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Tipping Point - Malcolm Gladwell


"weak ties" are always more important than strong ties. Your friends, after all, occupy the same world that you do. The might work with you, or live near you, and go to the same churches, schools or parties. How much, then, would they know that you wouldn't know? Your acquaintances, on the other hand, by definition occupy a very different world than you. They are much more likely to know something that you don't....Acquaintances, in short, represent a source of social power, and the more aquaintances you have the more powerful you are...We rely on them to give us access to opportunities and worlds to which we don't belong."

"Here is another example of the subtleties of persuasion. A large group of students were recruited for what they were told was a market research study by a company making high-tech headphones. They were each given a headset and told that the company wanted to test to see how well they worked when the listener was in motion - dancing up and down, say or moving his or her head. All of the students listened to songs Linda Ronstadt and the Eagles, and then heard a radio editorial arguing that tuition at their university should be raised from its present level of $587 to $750. A third were told that while they listened to the taped radio editorial they should nod their heads vigoursly up and down. The next third were told to shake their heads from side to side. The final third were the control group. They were told to keep their heads still. When they were finished, all the students were given a short questionaire, asking them questions about the quality of the songs and the effect of the shaking. Slipped in at the end was the question the experimenters really wanted an answer to: 'What do you feel would be an appropriate dollar amount for undergraduate tuition per year?'
The answers to that question are just as difficult to believe...The students who kept their heads still were unmoved by the editorial. The tuition amount that they guessed was appropriate was $582 - or just about where tuition was already. Those who shook their heads from side to side as they listened to the editorial - even though they thought they were simply testing headset quality - disagreed strongly with the proposed increase. They wanted tuition to fall on average to $467 a year. Those who were told to nod their heads up and down, meanwhile, found the editorial very persuasive. They wanted tuition to rise, on average, to $646. The simple act of moving their heads up and down, ostensibly for another reason entirely - was sufficient to cause them to recommend a policy that would take money out of their own pockets. Somehow nodding, in the end, mattered..."

"Six degrees of separation doesn't mean that everyone is linked to everyone else in just six steps. It means that a very small number of people are linked to everyone else in a few steps, and the rest of us are linked to the world through those special few."

"One of the most infamous incidents in New York City history, for example, was the 1964 stabbing death of a young Queens woman by the name of Kitty Genovese. Genovese was chased by her assailant and attacked three times on the street, over the course of half an hour, as 38 of her neighbors watched from their windows. During that time, however, none of the 38 witnesses called the police. The case provoked rounds of self-recrimination [blame]. It became symbolic of the cold and dehumanizing effects of urban life. Abe Rosenthal, who would later become editor of the New York Times, wrote in a book about the case:
Nobody can say why the 38 did not lift the phone while Miss Genevese was being attacked, since they cannot say themselves. It can be assumed, however, that their apathy [lack of concern] was indeed one of the big-city variety. It is almost a matter of psychological survival, if one is surrounded and pressed by millions of people, to prevent them from constantly impinging on you, and the only way to do this is to ignore them as often as possible. Indifference to one's neighbor and his troubles is a conditioned reflex in life in New York as it is in other big cities.
This is the kind of environmental explanation that makes intuitive sense to us. The anonymity and alienation of big-city life makes people hard and unfeeling. The truth about Genovese, however, turns out to be a little more complicated - more interesting. Two NYC psychologists...subsequently conducted a series of studies to try to understand what they dubbed the "bystander problem." They staged emergencies of one kind or another in different situations in order to see who would come and help. What they found, surprisingly, was that the one factor above all else that predicted helping behavior was how many witnesses there were to the event.

In one experiment, for example, Latane and Darley had a student alone in a room stage an epileptic fit. When there was just one person next door, listening, that person rushed to the student's aid 85% of the time. But when subjects thought that there were 4 others also overhearing the seizure, they came to the students aid only 31% of the time. In another experiment, people who saw smoke seeping out from under a doorway would report it 75% of the time when there were on their own, but the incident would be reported only 38% of the time when they were in a group. When people are in a group, in other words, repsonsibility for acting is diffused. They assume that someone else will make the call, or they assume that because no one else is acting, the apparent problem - the seizure-like sounds from the other room, the smoke from the door - isn't really a problem. In the case of Kitty Genovese, then, social psychologists like Latane and Darley argue, the lesson is not that no one called despite the fact that 38 people heard her scream; it's that no one called BECAUSE 38 people heard her scream. Ironically, had she been attacked on a lonely street with just one witness, she might have lived."

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