I listened to a podcast today (Intelligence Squared – How to Think Like a Freak) with Levitt and Dubner about Freakonomics. During the interview Levitt asked the male audience how many of them washed their hands after going to a public washroom/toilet. Almost everyone put their hands up.
Levitt then stated that he had spent some time hanging around mens public toilets (!) making a note of those who did or didn’t wash their hands when they had finished. 30% of men didn’t wash their hands after using the toilet. In hindsight, how many would publicly admit that they have done something considered to be socially wrong?
This phenomenon is known as social desirability – the want to conform to the public opinion being exhibited, either publicly or privately.
What has this got to do with diving safety research?
I am trying to collect data on people making mistakes, making poor decisions and ignoring best practice or their training, sometimes breaking the rules. Collecting data to determine WHY they made those mistakes, errors or violations. However, divers don’t want to talk about these issues, especially about things like not analysing gas, or starting a dive with one duff cell, things which are ‘obviously’ contrary to best practice. They know they shouldn’t have done it that way and got away with it but know that to discuss the issue is likely to attract criticism. For those who have contacted me, I am extremely grateful for the details you have passed on. THANK YOU.
The issue of social desirability in a public forum is even more prevalent when personal or professional reputations are at stake. The age of the internet means that divers who make intentional ‘unsafe’ decisions which ended badly, are unlikely to discuss it in public for fear of criticism. And because the community is so small, even if it is anonymous, someone will recognise it and then potentially compromise the confidentiality.
Professional reputations are under even more scrutiny. If the legal profession get sight of the issues, the less scrupulous can potentially collect evidence which will discredit someone’s professionalism for a future case, and as a consequence the truth quickly disappears and no-one learns.
No-one is perfect, no matter what they say. People ‘break the rules’ for all sorts of reasons. It isn’t the rule breaking* per se which is important, it is why the rule was broken.
*rule can refer to best practice or previously delivered training.