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Frey, B., Savage, D. A., Trogler, B. (2011). Behavior under Extreme Conditions: The Titanic Disaster. Journal of Economic Perspectives 24 (4), 1–14

For social scientists, evidence about how people behaved as the Titanic sunk offers a quasi-natural field experiment to explore behavior under extreme
conditions of life and death. A common assumption is that in such situations, self-interested reactions will predominate and social cohesion is expected to
disappear. For example, in an article called “The Human Being in Disasters: A Research Perspective,” Fritz and Williams (1957, p. 42) write: “(Human beings) . . . panic, trampling each other and losing all concern for their fellow human beings. After panic has subsided—so the image indicates—they turn to looting and exploitation, while the community is rent with conflict . . .” Other researchers like Gray (1988) and Mawson (2007) present a similar image, while movies, television and radio programs, novels, and journalistic reports of disasters often tend to reinforce this grim scenario. However, empirical evidence on the extent to which people in the throes of a disaster react with self-regarding or with other-regarding behavior is scanty.

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Authors

Frey, Bruno S.

Bruno S. Frey is Full Professor of Economics at the University of Zurich, Distinguished Professor of Behavioural Science at the Warwick Business School at the University of Warwick, UK, and Research Director of CREMA - Centre for Research in Economics, Management and the Arts, Switzerland. He is...

Savage, David

David Savage is a PhD student in the School of Economics and Finance, Queensland University of Technology.

Torgler, Benno

Benno Torgler is Professor of Economics in the School of Economics and Finance, QUT. He is also a Research Fellow of the Center for Research in Economics, Management and the Arts (CREMA) in Switzerland and a CESifo Research Affiliate. Previously he was: a Research Affiliate and Lecturer...

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