This experiment had people alone in a room filling out a questionnaire, when smoke starts coming from under the door. What do you do? You would get up and leave, tell someone in charge and do so without hesitation, right? Now imagine the same situation, except that you are not alone, you are with several other people who don’t seem to care about the smoke. What do you do now?
When alone, 75% of people reported the smoke almost immediately. The average time to report was 2 minutes of first noticing the smoke.
However when two actors were present, who were working with the experimenters and told to act as if nothing was wrong, only 10% of the subjects left the room or reported the smoke. 9 out of 10 subjects actually kept working on the questionnaire, while rubbing their eyes and waving smoke out of their faces.
The experiment was a great example of people responding slower (or not at all) to emergency situations in the presence of passive others. We seem to rely heavily on the responses of others even against our own instincts. If the group acts as if everything is OK then it must be, right? Wrong. Don’t let the passivity of others result in your inaction. Don’t always assume that someone else will help, that someone is specified to take action on behalf of others. Be the one to takeaction!