The Volunteer’s Dilemma: If no one wants to lose… everyone loses

Volunteer'S Dilemma

Imagines the electricity in your house is interrupted. You quickly realize that it does not only affect you, and that the unexpected cut also affects your neighbors. However, you decide not to notify the company, either because you don’t feel like it, you don’t want to spend time explaining what happened, or you don’t want to spend money on the call. your conclusion is that another neighbor will take the trouble to do it, but if everyone thinks the same… everyone loses. In that direction goes Volunteer’s Dilemmawhere someone hopelessly lose so that others win without lifting a fingeror else they end up just as badly as the volunteer.

For some strange reason I remembered that episode of The Simpsons in which Homer runs for commissioner shouting Couldn’t someone else do it?, just because you don’t want to take out the trash. Logically, the consequences are devastating for the city, which ends up relocated due to excess waste.

The critical point here is Homer’s attitude: “Let someone else take care of it”. Now, the most interesting thing is that this line of thought remains intact even when the sacrifice is needed. of one person to benefit the rest and eliminate a root problem. Welcome to Volunteer’s Dilemmawho does not receive a reward in exchange for his effort, but if he does not, the whole group loses.

The Volunteer’s Dilemma

Volunteer'S Dilemma
Kitty Genovese And Her Killer, Winston Moseley. The Original Story Was Vastly Exaggerated, But Still Help Was Too Long In Coming

An example cited over and over again in the Dilemma takes us back to the year 1964, and to the murder of a woman named Kitty Genovese. The original story of New York Times it said that 38 people witnessed the crime, but none of them called the police thinking that someone else would take careand they did not want to assume the cost of being involved.

Over time it became known that history was full of errors and falsehoods (Nobody criticized it at the time because it was crazy to go against the controversial editor of the Times at the time, Abe Rosenthal)and the newspaper admitted it 52 years later, but from that exaggerated article the dilemma became popular, and another very similar concept, the Bystander Effectunder which is less likely for a person to help a victim when people are present.

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A deeper analysis of the Volunteer’s Dilemma reveals three details. First, as the cost, effort, or sacrifice required of the volunteer increasesalso the possibility grows that no one will act.

Second, if the number of witnesses or participants goes up, the “gain” stays the same for everyone. And thirdly, the most striking: If the number of individuals in the group increases, the probability that a volunteer will appear plummets..

Even so, there are variables that we cannot ignore: Emergency situations vs. non-emergence, ambiguity, cultural differences and diffusion of responsibility they play a very big role, and there is much more going on in the background than a simple lack of empathy.

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