Last 'selfish moments' on tragic Lusitania
Published 02/03/2010 | 05:00
Women and children came first on the Titanic but not on the Lusitania, where selfish survival instincts took over after the ship was torpedoed by a German U-boat, research has shown.
The difference in passenger behaviour can be explained by the speed at which the two maritime disasters struck, and sheds light on human social psychology, say scientists.
Four days into her maiden voyage to New York, on April 14, 1912, the luxury liner Titanic hit an iceberg and sank in the frozen North Atlantic with the loss of 1,517 lives.
Three years later, after the outbreak of World War One, the Lusitania sank after a U-boat torpedoed it off the coast of Cork on a voyage from New York to Liverpool. A total of 1,198 people died, including the philanthropist Hugh Lane who left his art collection to Ireland.
Both events involved similar vessels, passenger populations, and death tolls. But they were very different in terms of human behaviour.
"On the Lusitania, selfish behaviour dominated... on the Titanic, social norms and social status (class) dominated, which contradicts standard economics," said the scientists, led by Bruno Frey, from the University of Zurich in Switzerland.
In the case of the Titanic, it really was a case of "women and children first" in the best maritime tradition. A study of the disaster showed that females, children and people accompanying a child were more likely to survive than males, adults and those without children.
Titanic children had a 14.8pc higher probability of surviving than adults, and a person accompanying a child was 19.6pc more likely to survive than someone without a child. Being female increased a passenger's chance of survival by more than 50pc.
In contrast, fit passengers aged 16 to 35 stood the greatest chance of surviving on the Lusitania. Although slightly more females survived, there was no significant gender difference.
Among the 1,949 passengers and crew on the Lusitania, there were 636 survivors. Both captains issued orders for women and children to be saved first, but they were only successfully carried out on the Titanic.
What chiefly accounted for the difference was time, according to researchers writing in the journal 'Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences'.
After striking the iceberg, the Titanic took two hours and 40 minutes to sink. The Lusitania disappeared beneath the waves in just 18 minutes.
"This difference -- in behaviour -- could be attributed to the fact that the Lusitania sank in 18 minutes, creating a situation in which the short-run flight impulse dominated behaviour. On the slowly sinking Titanic, there was time for socially determined behavioural patterns to re-emerge."
The results suggested a "stronger competition for survival" on the Lusitania.
On the Titanic, social norms were enforced more often and there was "a higher willingness among males to surrender a seat on a lifeboat".
While first-class Titanic passengers were more likely to find a place in a lifeboat, the Lusitania's first-class passengers fared worse than those in third class.