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The Psychology of Safety: Understanding Social Pressure in Diving

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Dive Training
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Social pressure is nearly unavoidable in group sports and activities. By simply participating, we open ourselves up to positive and negative peer pressure that can alter our thinking in unexpected ways. It is the responsibility of every diver to be aware of the influence that other divers may have – and to advocate for their own safety.

The Hazards of Negative Social Pressure in Diving

Negative social pressure is an intangible yet significant hazard that can be encountered by all divers, whether new or experienced. As innocuous as the words ‘don’t worry, everything will be fine’ may seem, these words spoken to novice divers by dive professionals have directly preceded multiple fatalities reported to DAN over the last ten years.

Recognizing Red Flags and Taking Action

Always keep in mind that the inaction of other divers does not necessarily mean that everything is OK. If you ever notice something that seems wrong, don’t hesitate to bring it to everyone’s attention. If any diver brings a safety concern to the group, make an effort to validate that concern and find a solution before proceeding with the dive. Divers should welcome and invite safety-related questions to dive plans; making divers feel as though they cannot challenge an idea or raise questions undermines the safety values inherent to safe diving.

Avoiding the Diminished Sense of Responsibility

Don’t allow yourself to settle into a diminished sense of responsibility when in the presence of other divers. Divers may notice an inappropriate or unsafe action taking place but assume it is someone else’s responsibility to say something about it. This is especially likely if they are inexperienced, as they may gravitate toward offloading responsibility for their safety to people they perceive as more experienced.

The Perils of Groupthink in Diving

Divers can become so immersed in the norms or behaviors of a group that they can inadvertently lose their sense of personal responsibility. Groupthink among divers can even be a conscious decision, especially if the divers know each other well. They may assume a false sense of security, become more impulsive or less assertive in decision-making, or just go along with the group without thinking things through.

Groupthink among divers can even be a conscious decision, especially if the divers know each other well.

Diving with Strangers: The Need for Personal Agency

When diving with others they don’t know, students may make unsafe diving choices as a direct result of subconscious pressure to want to be liked. They may feel compelled or pressured to dive beyond their skills or experience, especially if they receive false reassurance from the person or group encouraging them to dive beyond their limitations. Instill a sense of agency in yourself and your dive buddies to not get lost in the crowd when diving with strangers, and to instead stick to your training and what you know to be safe.

Maintaining Individual Responsibility for Experienced Divers

It is also important to recognize that even if you are a very experienced diver, you are not immune to social pressure. Help mitigate any negative influences by staying in control of your own safety. Don’t allow other divers to dictate the terms of a dive by caving to cavalier attitudes or the inclination to ensure everyone has a good time. Mitigate the effects of negative social pressure by implementing positive social pressure: Lead by example, reinforce the modeling of safe diving techniques and procedures, and remember that any diver can terminate a dive at any time for any reason.

Divers Alert Network

This article was originally published in Scuba Diver North America #14.

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Andy Wilson
Andy Wilson
11 months ago

The safest I have ever felt on a dive was with a couple of “special forces” divers. Not at all “gung ho”, they asked about my previous experience and limits, respected them throughout the dive and kept to my limits, whilst clearly getting the best for themselves!

It was an object lesson in safe diving which I have tried to follow myself since. Safe is as safe does!

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