Do Missing Child Posters Work?

On 6/7/12 The Today Show ran a story about missing children. They ran an experiment to see what people would do if they saw posters of a missing child, then actually saw the child. Working in conjunction with police and hidden cameras, they used a child actor, accompanied by a man acting brusquely. A number of people showed concern after seeing the poster then the child, but most people did not call the police. Their conclusion was that we need to pay more attention. But I think they drew the wrong conclusion. We are bombarded everyday with all kinds of visual information. Paying attention does not always suffice, as evidenced by this video.

I think a better conclusion to their study was that we need to find better ways to encourage people to act. People may not call because they are afraid they may be wrong, they fear getting involve, or for other reasons. I’d suggest doing some psychology experiments with posters displaying different messages: 1)If you see this girl, call 911, 2)If you think you saw this girl, but you’re not sure, call 911, 3)Imagine this was your daughter, what would you want people to do if they thought they recognized her?, etc.

It’s heart wrenching to see missing children posters. Perhaps a better understanding of what keeps people from following through when they identify one, will help save more.