Different River

”You can never step in the same river twice.” –Heraclitus

May 14, 2008

The “Missing Child” Poster Experiment

Filed under: — Different River @ 9:00 am

Do those “missing child” posters actually work? I’ve heard some stories about kids with pictures on milk cartons and the like being found (or not), but the question in my mind has always been, what is the chance that someone who sees the child will actually see the poster — within enough time to make the connection between the two?

It turns out, most people don’t notice the child — even if the child is sitting right next to the poster.

Local 6 printed missing posters of Britney — a paid 8-year-old actress — and posted them at the entrance of the Fashion Square Mall in Orlando.

Britney sat alone on a mall seat near a missing poster as her father watched from a distance inside a nearby Panera restaurant.

The experiment was to determine how many people would notice or help the girl posing as a missing child.

Local 6 videotaped person after person entering the mall without even noticing the missing child signs.

Others who did see the posters on the doors were videotaped walking by the missing child.

So, people aren’t really that observant, right? OK, so they are busy and thinking about their own things, not looking around, right?

Well, no — it’s worse than that. They stopped a bunch of people who claimed to have noticed the child, but decided to do nothing.

“I saw her but didn’t know what to think,” shopper Megan Reed said.

“I didn’t even see her,” shopper Priseilla Landerer said. “I didn’t notice her.”

The majority of people at the mall who did see a missing person sign also saw the young girl but just kept walking, Local 6′s Donald Forbes reported.

“I took a good look at the poster,” shopper Tony Roush said. “I’m a photographer, so I’m good with faces and I walked in and I was like, ‘That’s the girl. What do I do?’”

Some people said they were fearful of getting involved.

And, some people were afraid of being mistaken for the kidnapper:

“That’s what I was thinking,” a shopper said. “I was scared the mom would pop out of nowhere and be like, ‘Why are you talking to my child?’”

“We don’t want to get really close because some people don’t like it when you bother their child,” shopper Linda Turner said.

Then again, two people did stop and talk to the child and tried to figure out what was going on. In real life, maybe that’s all it takes.

Still, it’s disturbing that people were willing to admit that they noticed and did nothing. I find this more disturbing than if they’d claimed not to have noticed. Why? Because the fact that they admit it means that they think — or think most people would think — that it’s OK to notice and do nothing. And THAT is what’s most disturbing of all.

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