Sink, Swim, Or Help Someone Else

   By drodriguez  Mar 10, 2010

The old social rule, "women and children first", has been a steadfast in cases of emergencies for a long time.  Though it is widely believed that most groups of people will follow this rule in a time where a quick evacuation is needed, this may not actually be the case.  New research shows that unless there is an ample amount of time to think before a catastrophe, most people will fend for themselves and not worry much about others. 

An article from the Los Angeles Times reports about some research done on two very famous shipwrecks, the Titanic and the Lusitania.  Both ships held passengers of similar economic statuses, ages, and genders.  A group of researchers from the Queensland University of Technology in Australia, headed by economist Benno Torgler , studied the two shipwrecks as a way to further explore an economic theory "that people generally behave in a rational and selfish manner."

What the researchers found was that during the sinking of the Titanic the people who took charge brought women and children to the safety of the life rafts first, before the men.  The Titanic also took 3 hours to fully sink.  The case of the Lusitania however, turned out much differently.  After being torpedoed by a German U-boat it sank rather quickly, in just 18 minutes.  The survivors of this wreck were mostly young men and women, the people who first responded to their own instincts of survival.

What the team of researchers concluded was that when we have more time to think in emergencies is when social instincts kick in and we act in a more civilized manner.  But in cases where we have little time to think, most of us will go with our gut and try to save ourselves.  It seems, social class enters into this too.  As in the case with the Titanic most of the survivors were women and children of a higher class, whereas survivors of the Lusitania were mostly young men and women from steerage.

What do you think of the research being done of the way people reacted on the Titanic and the Lusitania"

Do you think it’s accurate that people tend to fend for themselves, rather than help a neighbor, when they have less time to react in an emergency?

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mommaduck by mommaduck | SAINT CHARLES, MO
May 21, 2010

its a tough one and i dont know if you can answer it unless you are in the situation. of course people would want to save themselves, i would. However to me my children come first i will do whatever i can to make sure they are safe -husband to (that goes for my entire family also).after that i guess it just depends on the situation and how the person would handle it, i would think if there is someone close to you that needs help you will help them but other than that i dont know what anyone would do.

veggiebear by veggiebear | COLCHESTER, VT
Mar 31, 2010

One very important argument to what this "study" shows- What about 9/11? I'm pretty sure I heard about MANY people who helped each other out at the risk of losing their own lives. I don't think they had much time to process any of what was happening and they acted in many selfless ways. We aren't always "every man for himself" and we aren't always the most noble in our actions, but to say this has ANYTHING to do with class, gender, social status etc, is extremely misguided. Every situation is different, as is every individual.

crystal22 by crystal22 | fort lauderdale, FL
Mar 23, 2010

I would swim

Sparkleandshine by Sparkleandshine | Chandler, AZ
Mar 17, 2010

Well obviously the boat sinking they studied occured in 1912 & 1915 so there were no 'womens rights' things to consider it was all about the amount of time they had to think. Since the Lusitania passengers didn't have time to organize I can really see how fight or flight took over and it was every person for themselves. I can see how they younger more fit passengers were able to survive as the older and younger passengers didn't have the skills to fend for themselves. I can see how without the time to rationalize a different outcome will occur. I can see that happening with any emergency. When there is time to organize I still think that it would be children and women first.

Lusadi by Lusadi | Wasilla, AK
Mar 16, 2010

Honestly, I don't view helping yourself and your family in a crisis situation as selfish. You need to be secure and you need your family to be secure before you are actually in a stable mental position to assist other people. If you are dead, injured, or in a state of are not useful to anyone. As a parent, my first priority and responsibility must be my own family. Once I have secured them, I am free to assist others as necessary.

nosey1 by nosey1 | BISMARCK, ND
Mar 14, 2010

It depends on the situation and area. I do think that people will think of themselves first. That would include family too. We are more selfish people in today's world so we would certainly fend for ourselves in todays world and most people would not even think about helping others. Terrible... That is unless they would get a reward, payment or something of that nature!

Dampiera by Dampiera | Waukegan, IL
Mar 11, 2010

I think that in exchange for more equal rights, women have lost some things as well. One of those things is preferential treatment in situations such as these being studied. Women used to be viewed as the "weaker" sex, therefore requiring protection in much the same was that a child did. I personally feel that we are better off for it, but there is no denying that it has taken some civility out of society. I think that we have now come to a point where we have OVERcompensated, however.

msfriendly by msfriendly | MONROE, WI
Mar 11, 2010

Our society today is a very "me" society. So, with that being said, I think that manners would not be considered and everyone would be only caring about themselves. Wish it weren't that way and I wish it would change.

girl17 by girl17 | EAGAN, MN
Mar 10, 2010

I think we have a fight or flight instinct so I can understand if there is no time to think we will try to take care of ourselves and our families over strangers. Even airlines tell you to put your mask on first before helping others!

idahospud by idahospud | haines, AK
Mar 10, 2010

It has everything to do with upbringing.In my childhood days I was taught the "Golden Rule" do unto others.unfortunatly,this day & age,if you follow the golden rule,there are people,out there that will take advantage of your kindness.These are the same people that will trample your body into the ground,including your child to get on the life boat.Selflessness is what is lacking in alot of humans.Too bad.We will eventually detroy ourselves.

pjclayton57 by pjclayton57 | Oceanport, NJ
Mar 10, 2010

I really don't think that it is comparing apples to apples so I don't put a whole lot of stock in the findings. I do think that times have certainly changed and a lot of that is due to women desiring more equality and having more independence (don't bash me, it's true!). I do still see men opening doors for women and chivalrous things like that but not nearly as often as with years ago. When it comes to an emergency situation, I believe that most people will try to help others regardless of age or gender, but there is still a lot of "every man for himself" type thinking out there too. To generalize would be wrong, because it all depends on the person and their upbringing and values!