Interaction of natural survival instincts and internalized social norms exploring the Titanic and Lusitania disasters
Frey, Bruno, Savage, David A., & Torgler, Benno (2010) Interaction of natural survival instincts and internalized social norms exploring the Titanic and Lusitania disasters. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 107(11), pp. 4862-4865.
To understand human behavior, it is important to know under what conditions people deviate from selfish rationality. This study explores the interaction of natural survival instincts and internalized social norms using data on the sinking of the Titanic and the Lusitania. We show that time pressure appears to be crucial when explaining behavior under extreme conditions of life and death. Even though the two vessels and the composition of their passengers were quite similar, the behavior of the individuals on board was dramatically different. On the Lusitania, selfish behavior dominated (which corresponds to the classical homo oeconomicus); on the Titanic, social norms and social status (class) dominated, which contradicts standard economics. This difference could be attributed to the fact that the Lusitania sank in 18 minutes, creating a situation in which the short-run flight impulse dominates behavior. On the slowly sinking Titanic (2 hours, 40 minutes), there was time for socially determined behavioral patterns to re-emerge. To our knowledge, this is the first time that these shipping disasters have been analyzed in a comparative manner with advanced statistical (econometric) techniques using individual data of the passengers and crew. Knowing human behavior under extreme conditions allows us to gain insights about how varied human behavior can be depending on differing external conditions.
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