Reckless heroism can be as deadly as total self-interest during disasters
Selfishness saves more lives in emergency situations than selfless heroism, according to a new study released Friday.
In computer models of life-and-death disaster situations involving large groups of people, scientists found significantly less people died when stronger individuals first reached safety before attempting to help weaker ones left behind.
The study was published in the journal Expert Systems with Applications by researchers from the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada.
“Foolhardiness is not a good strategy for rescuing,” lead researcher Eishiro Higo said in a statement. “In very critical situations, we have to be kind of selfish, but we can still help others if we have proper equipment and proper strategies.”
A series of computer models were built based on an actual location in Kyoto, Japan.
Located near a river, the underground structure consists of a subway station, shopping mall and parking garage. Higo and his team ran simulations using artificial intelligence that modelled how groups of people might act if the river flooded the structure and everyone underground had to quickly climb staircases to the surface.
The computer program showed the success rates of different strategies implemented by a group of 30 people, which included a mix of young adults and senior citizens.
When the healthier people tried to get to safety before rescuing those left behind, the simulation found that 12 people would survive.
That was far better than the two other options, in which the people thought only about their own lives or immediately worked together as a group.
In both those scenarios, only five of the 30 people survived.
“We have to identify what is brave and what is reckless,” Higo said. “Helping people from a safe location is still good behaviour and the result is actually much better.”
Higo was motivated to conduct this research by the devastating tsunami in 2011 that killed 16,000 people in eastern Japan.