Wow! That picture just kills me. The look of utter defeat and despair in that little girl’s pose just breaks my heart. I just ache seeing her. Please relate your reactions to her in the comments. I’d love to hear them.
The phenomenon described in this article and studied by Paul Slovic is well known to me and to many of us. It is the reason that charities often use a picture of one child or one person or the story of one person to solicit donations. We are moved by one person. As soon as we have two, we begin the disproportionate rise in apathy; by the time we get to millions — 22 million to lose healthcare — we have very little empathy left. It just doesn’t move us in the same way.
Slovic extended the work of Kahneman and Tversky’s prospect theory from valuing things to valuing human lives. It meets all the requirements of Ye Olde Blogge, too: it is scientific and factual — lots of research has gone into verifying the phenomenon of psychic numbing — it is diagnostic — it helps us understand what is happening in certain situations and people’s reactions — and it is prescriptive — it helps us understand what to do to affect a situation. As mentioned above, we often talked about kicking 22 million people off of healthcare. While that number is significant and people responded — and boy did people respond — if we want to rope in the middle of the roaders and non-responders, then we should be focusing on one person’s story.The singularity effect.
When people stand up at constituent meetings and tell their personal story of healthcare woe and others boo and shout abuse at them, we’re not likely to reach those callous partisans, but there are the fence sitters who think that the whole thing is too confusing and overwhelming and it doesn’t affect them personally and both sides do it and elections don’t matter and politicians are the all the same and there’s no difference between the parties and maybe it is better to let their representative decide. That person can be moved to vote by this phenomenon and that person’s story of healthcare hardship and despair.
A psychologist explains the limits of human compassion
Why do we ignore mass atrocities? It has to do with something called “psychic numbing.”
There are now 65.3 million people displaced from their homes worldwide, the United Nations reports. It’s an all-time high: likely the largest population of refugees and asylum seekers in human history.
Think about that number: 65.3 million. Can you even imagine it? Like, really imagine it. When we see one life, we can imagine their hopes and pain. But 65 million? You can’t. That’s just an abstraction. There’s a hard limit to human compassion, and it’s one of the most powerful psychological forces shaping human events.
I often report on political psychology. And in my conversations with scientists, I’ll often ask: “What research helps you understand what’s going on in the world?” The answer — whether it’s pegged to the refugee crisis abroad or the health care debate at home — very often involves Paul Slovic.
Continue reading at Vox: A psychologist explains the limits of human compassion – Vox