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06 October 2010


David McGinnis

Oh. I guess i misunderstand Collective Action....

What is the term for everyone wanting to do something but not be the first?
The most common example is an empty dance floor...

Tragedy of the Collective?

Ann Zerkle

Hmm, I can't think of what that might be. You actually reminded me of a psychology class I took where we discussed that if someone is in physical danger, the bigger the crowd, the less likely people are to step up.
Do any other readers know the term for what David is talking about?


You might be referring to the "free-rider" problem, which is associated with goods and services that have externalities - pos or neg - which may be difficult appropriate (e.g. water, air, view of a skyline, open-air concerts, pollution, etc.).

Think of Public Radio fund drives - you get to listen to the music on the radio, but they cannot easily identify you as a listener, so they cannot send you a bill and depend on your volunteering to send in a pledge.

What's interesting is how they attempt to overcome this problem - with collection action strategies, like providing tee-shirts and coffee mugs to those who pledge so they can display proudly their membership and promote a need for others to signal membership in the group, making you feel bad, appealing to your sense of honor or community... and other strategies as well - like offering unique collateral content you can't get anywhere else - a book signed by an author donated to the drive, special recordings of oft-watched programs, or discounts on other stuff...



David McGinnis

Hmm. i'm not sure we're talking about the same thing. I totally agree with your definition of a free-rider, but I don't think it explains the empty dance floor:

There are 30 guys and 30 girls and every one of them wants to dance, but they are all too afraid that they are the only one who wants to. They are willing to get out there and ask a girl to dance as long as someone else goes first.

is it kindof like group think? silent majority? I guess it's most like game theory (is that the general term for the prisoner's dilemma?)

all questions, no answers. Story of my life.


The phenomenon you are referring to is known as the "bystander effect" or "diffusion of responsibility."

An often-cited example of this phenomenon is the murder of Kitty Genovese. Kitty Genovese was murdered outside her apartment in Queens, New York, in 1964. Several dozen of her neighbors witnessed the attack, but failed to come to her aid or call 911.

I recall that Malcolm Gladwell wrote insightfully about this incident in "The Tipping Point," though I don't recall his insights.

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