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It's Not Always Women and Children First
Date:3/1/2010

Comparison of Titanic and Lusitania found passengers' behavior was dictated by amount of time to cope

MONDAY, March 1 (HealthDay News) -- In a life-and-death situation, how much time people have to react has a lot to do with whether they behave selfishly or selflessly, if a new critique of the infamous Titanic and Lusitania ocean liner disasters is any indication.

The comparative look at who survived two of the 20th century's most infamous shipping calamities suggests that the so-called "economic theory" of human behavior -- namely, that in the face of disaster, rational self-preservation trumps social norms and rules -- does not always hold water.

"What would you do?" asked study co-author Benno Torgler, a professor of economics and finance at the Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, Australia. "Would you attempt to save your own life at whatever cost to others, or would you help others and put your life at stake for others? One would think that selfish and self-preserving behavior predominates. However, we provide evidence ... that this is not always the case."

To discern what makes threatened people tick, the researchers compared data on passenger and crew members and their reactions to the two maritime disasters. Manifests indicate that passenger composition was similar on the ships, with 62 percent to 65 percent of the passengers male.

In both instances, Torgler and his team noted, the ship captains ordered their crew to save female passengers and children first -- because of a scarcity of lifeboats on the Titanic and because of too little time to launch lifeboats on the Lusitania.

Younger, stronger and more agile passengers would have been expected to have a better chance of surviving both sinkings, the researchers noted. That's not, however, what they found.

On the Titanic, survival more closely tracked the crew's directive, which reflected accepted social norms: fem
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