Thursday, April 22, 2004

The Grace Darling Effect

Some years ago on an animal behaviour Internet discussion list we had a discussion on human bravery and the possibility of a sociobiological explanation, along the lines of kin selection and the ideas of Hamilton and Trivers.

At the time I referred to something I christened the "Grace Darling Effect". Grace Darling was a famous young heroine who helped her father row a boat out to a shipwrecked ship and rescue people. Her feat was celebrated in the eponymous poem by William Wordsworth.

At the time I wrote:

"What I am referring to is that a surprising number of heroic acts are done by teenage and younger girls.... This does not sit well with any of the sociobiological explanations that I have seen discussed. A pre-pubescent girl is unlikely to be advertising herself as altruistic to attract the opposite sex and also, I would have thought, unlikely to be indulging in misdirected altruism towards relatives. As a female who has not bred, it makes little sense for her to endanger herself. "

I later obtained information on some of the bravery awards made by the Australian Government in recent years. These will be fairly "clean" data as the stories will have been officially checked. So I am not having to rely on media reports.

The following cases have been described.

Miss Tracey Christine Gardner: "placed her own safety in jeopardy to save another teacher from possible injury."

Miss Tiani Michelle Chillemi: "fought with an armed man to save one of her parents' employees from further injury."

Miss Emily Rae Dunstan: "assisted in the rescue of her friend from the sea off Weymouth Beach."

Miss Rachelle McNiven: " rescued a boy from drowning in heavy and dangerous seas off North Narrabeen Beach."

Miss Angela Leigh Burke: "then aged 16, saved a boy under attack from a street gang of youths."

Miss Jodie Lee Parremore: "at Clifton Beach...then aged 10, placed her life at risk to save a young friend in danger."

On the basis that females described as "Miss" will be unmarried and probably childless, and in these cases the persons being protected were not relatives, these examples do not fit readily into any of the usual sociobiological categories.



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