Friday, March 19, 2010

How Humans Think and Behave in a Crisis

While I’m not one of those 2012 apocalypse loonies, it certainly does seem that our world is beset with more than its fair share of crises: economic meltdowns, natural disasters and random acts of violence.

TIME magazine recently published a fascinating article about how the will to survive can trump social norms in the event of a serious crisis or disaster. Author Jeffrey Kluger cites a new paper by an international team of social behaviorists that compares the two of the greatest maritime crises in history: the sinking of the Titanic and the Lusitania.

While most shipwrecks are relatively slow-moving disasters, the Lusitania sank just 18 minutes after it was hit by a German torpedo. The Titanic stayed afloat for 2 hours and 40 minutes — and human behavior differed accordingly. According to the authors of the paper, "The short-run flight impulse [on the Lusitania] dominated behavior. On the slowly sinking Titanic, there was time for socially determined behavioral patterns to reemerge."

One of the key takeaways is that leaders need to move quickly in a crisis situation to 1) restore some semblance of order and 2) disseminate information about what has just happened and what needs to be done next.

Labels: , , , , , ,