April 13, 2007

Understanding human sympathy

Why is it that people really feel for one person's accidental death and feel nothing about thousands of death in Darfur?

A research finds:

"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. 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."

Amit Varma adds:

There is a lesson in this for journalists. When we cover events that have caused many deaths, the most effective way to convey the effect of the carnage is to focus on stories about individuals.

The study finds that our capacity to feel is limited. Even at two, people start to lose it.


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