Saturday, August 9, 2008

New York City Stabbing a Hoax?

I was just doing some research on a murder that happened in Queens NY in 1964. You may have heard of it. It's the Kitty Genovese murder. It's the crime that led to an entire branch of social psychology research.

Kitty Genovese was stabbed to death on the street while 38 witnesses watched and did nothing to help. Social scientists became fascinated by what they called the "Bystander Effect" and a whole series of research studies began to study why it is that people will take action to help when they are by themselves, but not if they are part of a group.

I'm writing about this in a book I'm working on (Neuro Web Design: What Makes Them Click, PeachPit, due out in Jan of 2009). I found online the original New York Times article about the murder, but then I found online another New York Times article written 40 years later in 2004 that casts doubt on some of the data and its interpretation of the original event. 

Apparently it's now believed that several people probably heard something and maybe saw something, but they probably couldn't have figured out what they were hearing or seeing (based on where the crime occurred and the lighting on the street etc), and it probably wasn't 38 people either. So the truth is that a few people heard some noises and saw someone staggering down a street.

The question I have is: If it took me about 5 minutes to find this updated information on the internet, then why does the original version of events still show up? In research articles, in slide presentations, in books, people still talk about the Kitty Genovese event without mentioning the later update. 

Is it the sheer number of references to the earlier, incorrect version? Or is it that everyone is lazy and they take the first reference they come across?

3 comments:

InnerAthlete said...

Everyone is lazy. I think we're just used to looking at the first hit in Google, and not going any farther. That becomes the "truth". Sure makes you want to learn about Search Engine Optimization doesn't it?

Cathy said...

Hi:

Related ted.com video may be of interest if you have not seen it already:

http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/philip_zimbardo_on_the_psychology_of_evil.html

Catherine said...

My first reaction is: why would people want to have such a dramatic story altered to a more sedate report? It's the same reason why we're drawn to our sordid local late night news: violence is titillating. I don't think people celebrate it, but there's an addiction to passing on details of a horrific scenario. And now, I'll take off my psychological amateur hat.