Sue Frantz

Gray Davis saved a man's life. Why?

Blog Post created by Sue Frantz on Jun 22, 2017

On June 3, 2017, late at night, an unnamed 58-year-old homeless man was shoved onto the tracks in a Manhattan subway station. Gray Davis, a 31-year-old ballet dancer, leapt down onto the tracks and lifted the unconscious man to safety. And then lifted himself up before the next train arrived (Cooper & Southall, 2017).

 

Thanks to research on the bystander effect, we know the conditions under which we are less likely to help and under which we are more likely to help (Myers, 2015). Let’s see how these play out with Gray Davis on that night.

 

We are more likely to help when:

 

We are feeling good. He was with his wife and mother after having watched his wife, also a ballet dancer, perform. While they certainly could have been arguing for the last 6 hours, I’m going to choose to believe they had an enjoyable day.

 

We are not in a rush. Their evening out had just come to a close, and they were making their way home.

 

The victim needs help. An unconscious man on train tracks clearly needs help.

 

We know that there were a number of bystanders present. Davis reports that “People were screaming to get help,” and, well, it’s a Saturday night in Manhattan so there must have been others present. Why did the number of bystanders seem to have little impact on Davis? At the time of the incident, Davis was already committed to helping. When his wife, Cassandra Trenary, saw the man and a woman arguing, she sent Davis to get help. He ran up to the token booth, but it was unoccupied. He had returned to the platform to learn that the man had been shoved onto the tracks. And, as a dancer, Gray Davis also knew he had the physical skill to help.

 

Factors that were not present? The victim did not appear to be similar to his rescuer and the incident did not take place in a small town.

 

Other factors that could have been present that we don’t know about? We don’t know if Davis was feeling guilty about something, if he is a religious man, or if he had recently seen someone else being helpful.

 

I have an assignment where I ask students to take the conditions that are more likely to lead to helping and create a scenario in which someone is more likely to help. And then I ask students to reverse them to create a scenario in which someone is less likely to help. If you decide to offer a similar writing assignment, ask students to identify how each condition related to helping behavior is illustrated in their scenario. It will make scoring them much easier. 

 

 

References

 

Cooper, M., & Southall, A. (2017, June 04). Ballet dancer leaps onto subway tracks and lifts man to safety. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/04/arts/dance/ballet-dancer-gray-davis-subway-rescue.html

 

Myers, D. G. (2015). Exploring social psychology (7th ed.). Boston: McGraw-Hill.

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