Why Bridge Jumper Was Taunted

ByABC News
August 30, 2001, 12:45 PM

Aug. 30 -- When a 26-year-old woman stood at the edge of a Seattle bridge on Tuesday, contemplating the decision to end her life with a jump, she didn't do so in peace.

"Jump, bitch, jump!" is what she heard from the crowd of motorists at the scene. Other onlookers cursed the woman, who was distraught over a relationship. After all, she had delayed their daily commute.

"The officers that were first on the scene said there were cars that were stopping as they were going by on the freeway, and taunting her to jump," Sgt. L.J. Eddy of the Seattle Police Department Crisis Intervention Team said today on ABCNEWS' Good Morning America. Eddy's team tried to stop the jumper, and ended up pulling her out of the water after she leaped from the bridge. (The woman is listed in serious condition at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, with a spinal fracture and chest and abdominal injuries. She is expected to recover fully, according to Associated Press reports.)

Cruel, yes. Unusual? Experts say no.

Losing Your Sense of Individuality

Such behavior occurs quite naturally to us in certain situations. Psychologists have a name for it: deindividuation.

Scott Plous, a professor at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, calls the mob reaction seen during the Seattle suicide attempt a classic case of deindividuation, or losing your sense of individuality. He says that being anonymous or being part of a large group will often lead to behavior that, under normal circumstances, is not socially acceptable.

Eddy concurs that this is not an unusual phenomenon.

"I have been out to incidents of jumpers on ledges in high-rises and things like that, and there is frequently someone in the crowd, I think because of that anonymity, who will yell to 'jump' or 'go ahead' or something like that," she said.

Large groups,explains Brad Bushman, a psychology professor at Iowa State University, not only dilute a sense of individuality, but also lessen accountability.

"In a large group, diffusion of responsibility occurs so the individual experiences less responsibility on their own," he said.