As death increases, compassion recedes - LiveScience
Study finds mass death fails to spur emotion the way one tragedy can
By Sara Goudarzi
Updated: 11:56 a.m. ET Feb. 16, 2007
SAN FRANCISCO - While a person's accidental death reported on the evening news can bring viewers to tears, mass killings reported as statistics fail to tickle human emotions, a new study finds.
The Internet and other modern communications bring atrocities such as killings in
People typically react very strongly to one death but their emotions fade as the number of victims increase, Slovic reported here yesterday at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
"We go all out to save a single identified victim, be it a person or an animal, but as the numbers increase, we level off," Slovic said. "We don't feel any different to say 88 people dying than we do to 87. This is a disturbing model, because it means that lives are not equal, and that as problems become bigger we become insensitive to the prospect of additional deaths."
Human insensitivity to large-scale human suffering has been observed in the past century with genocides in
"We have to understand what it is in our makeup — psychologically, socially, politically and institutionally — that has allowed genocide to go unabated for a century," Slovic said. "If we don't answer that question and use the answer to change things, we will see another century of horrible atrocities around the world."
Slovic previously studied this phenomenon by presenting photographs to a group of subjects. In the first photograph eight children needed $300,000 to receive medical attention in order to save their lives. In the next photograph, one child needed $300,000 for medical bills.
Most subjects were willing to donate to the one and not the group of children.