Monday, June 04, 2007

Pluralistic ignorance

I was walking towards the baggage claim area in the Orange county airport during one of my business trips. People from my flight were walking towards the baggage claim area, while others were rushing towards the terminals to catch their flights. I saw a woman, a few paces ahead of me, unknowingly drop her boarding pass. She was rushing towards her terminal, just like everyone else. There must have been about 5-6 people between me and the woman. I assume most of them saw what happened, but no one bothered to do anything. I, too, passed the boarding pass on the floor, and for some reason it flashed that something was wrong. I stopped to pick up the pass, and ran back and gave it to her.

On the way out, I was thinking about what happened. I knew that something was wrong in the whole scene, but could not put my finger on it. Until, I read about the pluralistic ignorance at the Media Studies. This article explained exactly what happened in the airport the other day.

We see such acts daily. During a project meeting, you see that some things need to be taken care of, and mention it. Everyone nods in agreement, but nothing is done. Why? Everybody in the room thought that the other person would pick up the ball. That is why we need to assign specific action items to individuals.

I specifically remember of seeing a video as a child about what to do in case of an emergency. Imagine an accident scene and a man is lying unconscious on the road. On lookers surround the accident scene. You see that the man needs medical attention and scream "Somebody call 911" or "Can someone get a fresh towel?". Guess what happens? Nothing. Same reason. Everybody is assuming that the other person is going to respond. So, the video specifically suggests that in these situations, you should point at a random person (an adult) and scream orders. "You, call 911 immediately". That will get things done since there is no plurality. Orders are aimed at an individual, and everyone is watching how you react. So, you better react and get things done.