@fringeguru brought my attention to this great video showing the relationship between the way someone is dressed and whether we help them….. do you think it is valid?



  1. It makes me ashamed to be “human”. to be honest. Especially when the man is actually constantly asking for help. The trouble is that, when I have discussed things like this with people, their honest fear seems to be, in this modern world, that “perhaps he’s on drugs and has a knife” or “he’s like that because he’s drunk and might turn violent” etc. People are wary, and of course, they always think that even if they walk by, the next person will help, so it doesn’t really matter and it’s not on their conscience. I believe that “tests” such as this have shown that if it is on a remote stretch of road where nobody else is around for miles, there’s a much greater chance that a person will offer help though. But generally always easier to leave things to “someone else”. Sad but there it is. Sometimes we’re a pitiful species.

  2. Cant open the video at the moment, but I suspect its the one doing the rounds…..

    Yes, of course, we treat people differently depending on how we perceive them. Its an inbuilt survivial mechanism, and feeling wary about people who don’t fit what we feel safe with is one of the best defences we have against assault, fraud, and so on.

    But equally, placing too much trust in those who DO fit our safety margins can be problematic too – c.f. Milgram.

    It would be great if everyone felt able to help everybody else, regardless of how they look. But it would also be great if every person asking for help was genuine – and until the latter is always the case, I can’t see how you can fault people for not offering help where they feel suspicious or uneasy.

    1. Yes, it’s a dilemma. And obviously why people are way more likely to lean down to offer help to a sweet-looking old lady or a well-dressed person than to someone who is dressed roughly and looks slightly more “risky”. After all, the person may well be under the influence of something and reward you with a knife in the chest. It IS understandable – but sad nontheless. After all, one day it really could be ourselves or one of our loved ones who has collapsed in the street and is ignored until it’s too late. But – didn’t any of the passers-by at least think to use their mobiles to stand near and call an ambulance for the stricken person at least? There was no evidence of that.

  3. If one feels unsafe and do not want to get near a not “well dressesed” person because of the possible risk of being stabbed why not call an ambulance right away! It is the indifference and not wanting to get involved or waste your time when there is a possibility that another human being is suffering that is so shocking.

    1. We don’t actually know that no one did that. Someone could have simply been outside the camera shot calling emergency services on their cell phone. One would certainly hope so.

  4. This film is not up to date as it does not consider that most interactions these days are via social media online.

    If I were to post “maydez aidi moi” no one would know how I was dressed but I would expect a retweet from the Emergency Services within a short interval.

    Even if we do consider the street scenario (and where I do not send a message on my iPhone or other smart media) the experimenters have not done a proper double-sided experiment to establish their hypothesis.

    There should be film where neither the passersby nor the patient know that the patient is ill. I know it is hard to create such a scenario without (say) poisoning people without their knowledge but if Social Science is ever to achieve the respect the true science has (such as Physics or Astrology) the only way is for the Ethics committees to be open to more diverse approaches.

    1. @Barry: I think Social Science has already exceed the “true science” of Astrology — some may disagree!

    2. Some things are best analysed through observation. This situation is one for which observed behavior is very helpful. To do a random, double-blind study, however, is a daunting process. However, there have been many studies such as this (though I wouldn’t call it a study, exactly) that try to measure “friendliness” or some such. Get enough of them together and you will get some insight. For now, I doubt anybody cares enough to want to study this phenomenon in detail.

  5. To answer Richard’s question, no, I do not think it is valid. I think there was some cherry-picking in editing the video (if it wasn’t entirely staged). I’d be more interested in a well-documented study showing the real extent of this effect. I’m sure there’s some difference but not as dramatic.

  6. The other challenge is that, in large cities, we have become accustomed to aggressive homeless people sleeping on the sidewalks and/or passing out. So the sight of a disheveled man, possibly passed out, is not unusual. And we have learned that approaching one of these people can often lead to violence, or at least a stream of cursing.

  7. I’ve been told to Eff off, & spat at, by someone apparently collapsed, so yes, I would probably walk on by him, and dislike myself for it.

  8. This is less about appearances than expectations.

    It’s within our expectation set that we see someone who “looks homeless” asleep on the street, or asking for help as a ruse to ask for money. We don’t perceive this situation as “a problem”

    It’s not within our expectation set to see a well-dressed person doing the same thing, so we assume there is, therefore, a problem.

    If anything, this video shows that when humans DO perceive others in a problematic situation, we tend to help.

    1. Sashen’s comment is pretty much what my comment would have been. We have become so inured to street people, alcoholics, drug addicts that it is easy to dismiss them out of hand. That may not be right but it’s understandable when there are so many of them, all the time, that a single intervention won’t do any good. (However, this guy didn’t look any less well-dressed than some of the people walking by. But it *is* Paris, after all…)

  9. no me siento como capaz de decir algo al respecto; creo que esta bien seguir y también esta mal no hacerlo. eso es muy relativo; es triste saber que somos parte de una sociedad cada día mas inconsciente.

  10. For me this is invalid. Yes I would not do much for the person because I’m not trained to do so, but a quick stop, a quick cell call, help there.
    What the person looks like is of no concern to me. I have learned that the most dishonest and untrustworthy are the best dressed. A badly dressed person has never harmed me, but the banker types have ‘laid me off’, tried taking my social security and medicare, veteran benefits, and other things. I don’t trust anyone in a suit!!!

  11. I am reminded of the time I worked in downtown Pittsburgh, PA. There was a guy in a nice charcoal gray suit, white shirt, beautiful tie who would stand in doorways of office buildings and ask for a dollar as people walked by. He did not look drunk or on drugs, at least at that time. He could have walked out of any top law firm in the city. Maybe it was some kind of study, maybe he was hooked on cocaine, maybe he had an odd sense of humor (if so, he would love this blog), I don’t know, but he was there several times a week for months. My only regret is that I didn’t ask him what his schtick was.

  12. I think that drug adicts, street people and alcoholics also deserve help specially when they are on the floor and asking for it! And, yes I agree, the video may hide somethings to produce more impact.

  13. So, do we Friday puzzle addicts leave our comments on the Thursday thread now? Or have to wait until Monday?
    I have a couple of answers having thought about it for about 30 seconds.

    1. This is the place – and remember Richard has now removed the prohibition on spoilers (I could do with one please)

    2. i. Ask “Is it heads”?
      ii. Toss the coin
      iii. Get a “yes” or a “no” answer
      iv. Repeat, alternating between calling heads and tails

    3. I would have thought this approach would still show bias (have to check it out experimentally though). My thinking was along the lines of doing things with the coin that didn’t involve tossing it

    4. well, a little experiment in Excel, and then a Google (and playing around with some formulae on paper) has confirmed that either Barry’s answer works or my suspicion is true. Far be it from me to say I am biased.

  14. HAS he removed the prohibition on spoilers? Or has he disabled comments on Fridays precisely BECAUSE too many people were leaving spoilers – and in one case, flat out giving the answers?
    I suspect Friday comments has been closed so that nobody will talk about the puzzle until the solution is revealed next week.

  15. Frankly, its you being a twat that stopped me reading comments in the Friday threads, so it was news to me today that comments had been locked. Sadly, it seems you’re such an insecure and needy sadcase that you’ll be spreading your “ooooh, look how clever I am!!” comments into other threads.
    Frankly, I have to deal with enough morons in my day job – I don’t need them intruding on something I do as fun. So congrats – I’m unsubscribing from Richard’s blog so that I don’t have to see your childish shouts for attention.
    Well done. Ruined something I enjoyed because you have a pathetic need to show off. Thanks a bunch.

    1. The solution that I see above (Barry Goddard’s) doesn’t work. Imagine a coin 99.9% biased towards heads. His solution would yield long strings of 01010101…. Hardly random.

      At first, I thought there might not be a solution–but then it occurred to me.

    2. I just googled for the solution to this problem. My solution is slightly different than the one I read about–but I think it’s just as valid. Looking forward to Monday’s discussion.

  16. Once again I see that there are people posting as my name. Or perhaps there are many people with the same name as me – i.e. Barry Goddard. That is not impossible. Even in the realm of fiction David Gorman once wrote a novel that only starred real people called David Gorman.

    Yet these others are posting spoilers. That is something I have never done and said I would never do.

    Worst they are posting incorrect spoilers so they not just preventing someone from solving the puzzle by thinking hard. They are actively putting False Information onto the Internet. That is not good.

    To correct the False Information I will suggest the way I have solved this puzzle. My solution is flawed. It does not work if both coins are 100% biased such as a pair of doubled headed sided coins. A better solution is needed for that case.

    First make many many throws with the two coins and write down the results. I use HT and ht for the results of each coin for example.

    You may have something like this which clearly shows the bias in action:


    Now ignore all the places where you have a run of Hs (eg HhHhH) or Ts and highlight all the places where you have a h and a t (or H and T or t and H or h and T).

    For each of those “transitions” treat Ht and HT as a HEAD and tH and th as a TAIL.

    That gives you an unbiased 50% for each possibility.

    You can see this works if you write down the Venn Diagram for the four possible outcomes of throwing the two coins.

    Skill in analysing probabilities comes naturally to those of us who have studied applying the deterministic nature of the movement of the heavens (like the coin throws) to the complexity of human life (like the unexpected coin biases).

    1. @Needy Sadcase Twat

      Thank you for your support and comments.

      Yes my solution has an initial problem. This was caused by my having to type the reply to one post into the comments of another post. When data has to be transferred it can be easily accidentally distorted. This problem is known to computer scientists and gamers alike as “lag”.

      My solution is easily improved by simply throwing the one coin twice and calling the first throw H or T and the second throw h or t. (or vice versa, Either work making it a doubly sound solution). Then throw two more times and so on.

      I am glad we are able to have this civilized discussion, Needy Sadcase Twat (that sounds a very Indian name: congratulations on your recent election btw) rather than the sometimes less than appreciative comments that can be found on this blog at times.

    2. It’s an English name, actually, Barry.
      We Sadcase-Twats go back a long way.
      You could even say that the British Empire was founded on the back of Sadcase-Twats.

  17. I saw one of these happening years back in my home town. My girlfriend and I ran to help the seemingly drunk homeless guy who had just fallen over in front of us, and yet we somehow weren’t in the video when we found out what was happening and looked it up. In fact, they must have stopped filming and not told the actor as they claimed that not a single person helped the homeless man who was in need.

    It’s amazing how data can be skewed in the editing so that it looks like whatever you’re trying to prove. It didn’t matter that us two and at least one of our friends at a different point (comparing days is how we found out there was something fishy going on) had seen a human being in need and tried to help. The aim of the video had always been to show that people don’t care if people look a certain way.

  18. They removed the part where Barry Goddard steals a coin in the guy’s pocket in order to test his two-coin solution.

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