For the last 20 weeks, I’ve been posting a series of dilemmas which people might be faced with in a zombie apocalypse. The idea of these was mostly to have a bit of fun and get people thinking about some ethical dilemmas they might face if a zombie apocalypse were ever to happen. However, there was also another side to this. This was to examine how people thought they’d act under difficult circumstances. With this in mind, I specifically provided answers which would help identify whether people would act altruistically or selfishly. I also inserted a few answers here and there which the wording was specifically geared towards those with psychopathic tendencies just to see how often they would be selected.
With a total of 396 responses across the 20 dilemmas, I now have enough to do some analysis and see what they tell us about how people think they’d act in a zombie apocalypse. I divided up the answers into four categories: altruistic ones (where people would put themselves at risk to save others), neutral ones (where the answer had no impact on the survival, or not, of others), selfish ones (where people would put others at risk to save themselves) and psychopathic ones (where people would take actions which would potentially result in the deaths of others even though there was little cost to themselves).The first result, which is heart-warming, is that people chose responses which were altruistic significantly (p<0.001) more often than might be expected by chance alone. They also responded significantly less selfish (p=0.04) or psychopathically (p=0.04) than expected by chance. Neutral answers were selected no differently than might be expected by chance alone So, it seems people are basically nice, and will do things to help others, even when the zombies are beating at the door.
Yet, if you dig a little deeper, there’s some more interesting results in there. People responded most selfishly when the dilemma specifically involved their own survival, even at the cost of others. This is perhaps unsurprising. People also responded most altruistically when the dilemmas involved the survival or not of a child or children. Interestingly, it didn’t matter whether the kids were related to the person or not (which is not what I’d have expected).
So far, so good, but then we get to something a little worrying. When I looked at which dilemmas resulted in the highest proportion of psychopathic answers, I found out that they involved either a close relative, a partner or an underling the person had power over, and in these cases over 40% of the people chose what might be considered the psychopathic response.
Now none of this us real science, and it’s all a bit of fun, but I think it tells us four things about humanity (or at least the portion of it that spend time wondering about what they would do during a zombie apocalypse!):
1. Most people are willing to respond altruistically if given the opportunity, even in a zombie apocalypse.
2. People are particularly willing to be altruistically towards children, even unrelated ones.
3. People are most selfish when if comes to making decisions about themselves rather than about others.
4. There’s quite a large portion of people out there who responded in such a way as to suggest they tend to act with psychopathic tendencies. Of course, these might just be one-off answers, in which case there’s little to worry about. If, however, there are people out there who consistently select these answers, it’s all a bit more worrying; but maybe not unexpected. After all, it’s been estimated that 1% of the population are psychopaths. In a zombie apocalypse, these are the people you’d want to avoid at all costs, because they’re the ones who won’t think twice about taking actions which may result in your death – or worse …
From the author of For Those In Peril On The Sea, a tale of post-apocalyptic survival in a world where zombie-like infected rule the land and all the last few human survivors can do is stay on their boats and try to survive. Now available in print and as a Kindle ebook. Click here or visit www.forthoseinperil.net to find out more. To download a preview of the first three chapters, click here.
To read the Foreword Clarion Review of For Those In Peril On The Sea (where it scored five stars out of five) click here.