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In the debate over whether helping is ever truly altruistic, some have pointed to the behaviour of those who helped hide Jews from the Nazis during World War II. Was the behaviour of those individuals truly altruistic? As you can imagine, there was great risk for those who helped, but was it an example of genuine altruism?
In 1987, 18-month-old Jessica McClure fell down a water well in a backyard in Midland, Texas in 1987. Literally hundreds of volunteers worked around the clock to free her. The undying spirit that surrounded her rescue was truly amazing. Why did these people help? Were they truly concerned for Jessica's well-being? Are the norms for helping different when a child is involved?
Lerner and Simmons (1966) conducted an experiment reminiscent of Milgram’s famous study. They brought a group of subjects to the lab to participate in a study allegedly concerning perception of emotional cues.
One of the subjects (a confederate) was selected to perform a memory task and "received" a painful shock after each mistake, as the other subjects watched. When the audience subjects were asked to evaluate the victim, they showed reactions of devaluation and rejection, as if it was the victim’s fault for being shocked - said they could not believe he was so stupid.
Brought subject into lab where they were to discuss personal problems with an unseen person or persons in another room via intercom. Some subjects talked to only one other person; some to two others; some to 5 others.
There is no strong relationship between number of bystanders and speed of helping; the expected increased "diffusion of responsibility" with a greater number of bystanders was not obtained for groups of these sizes. That is, help is not less frequent or slower in coming from larger as compared to smaller groups of bystanders, what effect there is, is in the opposite direction.