Life in the city: lecture outline

Probably the most famous incident cited in Social Psychology textbooks occured in April 1964 in New York City. A woman, Kitty Genovese, was stabbed to death when she returned home from a night job at 3 a.m.. What made this case different from other murder cases was that, the murderer took about 30 minutes to kill his victim, stabbing her, running away and then returning to stab her again. Her screams attracted the attention of large numbers of witnesses and at least 38 people watched the attack from the safety of their appartments. But not one person intervened, and no one telephoned the police.

This incident has inspired two lines of research, the first concerned with the situation (bystander intervention in emergencies), the second with the wider context (life in cities). This lecture dealt with both.

Bystander intervention in emergencies

Much of the research in this area was carried out by Darley and Latané (1970) and they proposed that before an individual helps a victim he or she must go through a process of decision making that consists of at least 4 stages given below

A. Perceive an emergency
1. degree of ambiguity of distress cues
2. reactions of other bystanders
3. likelihood of escaping distress cues

B. Assume responsibility for the victims fate
1. number of other bystanders present
2. degree of acquaintance
3. designation of responsibility

C. Want to help
1. characteristics of the bystander
2. costs of helping

D. Have ability to help

Some examples of studies which deal with factors that affect this decision process are:

Life in Cities

In 1850 only 2% of the world's population lived in cities. Today the figure is around 30% and increasing, which makes it important to investigate how the cities we live in affect our lives. Social psychologists have proposed at least three models of urban life.

  1. Milgram's overload model According to Milgram the seeming aloofness and unfriendliness of the city dweller is a defensive response to a highly overloaded environment. To cope with the hustle and bustle people disregard unimportant events and depersonalize other people in the environment.
  2. Fischer's subcultural model. Fischer argues that it is far easier, due to the sheer size of an urban population, for particular sub-cultures to flourish in a city. These could be ethnic, religious, occupational etc. The presence of thriving subcultures increases the occurence of unconventional and innovative behaviour which spreads out from the city. On the other hand, individuals in a city are more likely to be divided by subcultural differences.
  3. Gans ' model Gans claims that city life has no effect on social behaviour. According to him, we may find urban-non urban differences in behaviour but these would be because individuals who live in cities are different.

Typical evidence would be Rushton's study of helping in different environments:
Percentage of people helping in different locations
Type of request Small Town Suburbs Inner City
asking for the time 97 95 91
asking for directions 97 90 88
asking for change 84 73 70
asking someone their name 51 39 26

Further evidence is given in Amato, P. (1983). Helping behaviour in urban and rural environments. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 45, 571-586

Do these models actually account for the data?

Comparison of urban-non-urban differences with predictions of 3 models
Less contact with relatives Less contact with friends Less contact with neighbours Less contact with neighbours
Is difference usually found? NO NO YES YES
Is the difference predicted by Milgram's model? NO NO YES YES
Is the difference predicted by Fischer's model? NO NO YES* YES
Is the difference predicted by Gans' model? NO NO NO NO

*assuming heterogenity among neighbours

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