– Social Calamity? –

I just read a report from ABC News that following watching the video of Saddam Hussein’s hanging last week, two boys (Texas and Pakistan) and a girl (India) ages 10, 9, and 15 respectively hanged themselves. Utube Blog provides the following analysis:

In one case, the boy saw the video on the news. There’s been no suggestion that any of the children saw the video on the Internet (or YouTube for that matter). But the tragedies do raise a legitimate question about the hundreds of copies of the Hussein execution on YouTube. Even if they are flagged and restricted for users over 18, there’s no real way to verify age on YouTube.

Also in the news this week is an account of several school shootings. Beginning last week in Tacoma, WA where a 17 year old young man was fatally shot. Police in Detroit have a person of interest in custody following the shooting of a 14 year old girl last Thursday. Meanwhile, court dates were set for three teenagers accused of plotting a Columbine style attack on their Iowa high school.

– Social Proof –

Are these tragic events the sign of depressed children willing to take their own lives, that of a violent society ready to tumble over the precipice or is something more deeply rooted taking place? Research by Dr. Robert Cialdini (Arizona State University) suggest the latter through a concept known as ‘social proof.’

If you are a fan of The Three Stooges, or any groups that share a slapstick sense, you have likely seen the man with a sore neck who walks out of the doctor looking straight up. After passing a few people, they begin to look. After time an entire crowd is looking skyward.

The tendency to see an action as appropriate when other are doing it works quite well normally. As a rule, we will make fewer mistakes by acting in accord with social evidence than by acting contrary to it (Cialdini, 2001).

In his book, Influence, Dr. Cialdini has compiled research which compares the number of suicides, automotive accidents and plane crashes following the national publication or broadcast of a suicide story. Not only did the numbers increase, but they did so within a demographic group. If the story was about a young person’s suicide, the number of subsequent suicides were younger and likewise when the story was about an older person’s suicide. This phenomenon was utilized in the CBS show Numbers where a sniper sets off a chain reaction of copycat killings in Los Angeles.

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