Telescope Effect

Even if 10 deaths do not make us feel 10 times as sad as a single death, shouldn’t we feel at least twice as sad? There is disturbing evidence that shows we may actually care less. … Paul Slovic … asked two groups of volunteers shortly after the Rwandan genocide to imagine they were officials in charge of a humanitarian rescue effort. Both groups were told their money could save 4,500 lives at a refugee camp, but one group was told the refugee camp had 11,000 people, whereas the other group was told the refugee camp had 250,000 people. Slovic found that people were much more reluctant to spend the money on the large camp than they were to spend the money on the small camp. … Would they rather spend $10 million to save 10,000 lives from a disease that caused 15,000 deaths a year, or save 20,000 lives from a disease that killed 290,000 people a year? Overwhelmingly, volunteers preferred to spend money saving the 10,000 lives rather than the 20,000 lives. …
Slovic once told volunteers about a 7-year-old girl in Mali who was starving and in need of help. They were given a certain amount of money and asked how much they were willing to spend to help her. On average, people gave half their money to help the girl. … One group of volunteers was asked whether they would give money to the little girl; another was asked whether they would donate money to the little boy. A third group of volunteers was told about both the boy and the girl and asked how much they were willing to give. People gave the same amount of money when told about either the boy or the girl. But when the children were presented together, the volunteers gave less.

Even if 10 deaths do not make us feel 10 times as sad as a single death, shouldn’t we feel at least twice as sad? There is disturbing evidence that shows we may actually care less. … Paul Slovic … asked two groups of volunteers shortly after the Rwandan genocide to imagine they were officials in charge of a humanitarian rescue effort. Both groups were told their money could save 4,500 lives at a refugee camp, but one group was told the refugee camp had 11,000 people, whereas the other group was told the refugee camp had 250,000 people. Slovic found that people were much more reluctant to spend the money on the large camp than they were to spend the money on the small camp. … Would they rather spend $10 million to save 10,000 lives from a disease that caused 15,000 deaths a year, or save 20,000 lives from a disease that killed 290,000 people a year? Overwhelmingly, volunteers preferred to spend money saving the 10,000 lives rather than the 20,000 lives. …

Slovic once told volunteers about a 7-year-old girl in Mali who was starving and in need of help. They were given a certain amount of money and asked how much they were willing to spend to help her. On average, people gave half their money to help the girl. … One group of volunteers was asked whether they would give money to the little girl; another was asked whether they would donate money to the little boy. A third group of volunteers was told about both the boy and the girl and asked how much they were willing to give. People gave the same amount of money when told about either the boy or the girl. But when the children were presented together, the volunteers gave less.

More here.  If you want to care more about distant victims, set aside your mental image of a large tragedy, focus your mind on one particular victim, and open your heart.  If you want to care less, instead of thinking about any one victim, try to visualize a much larger group of similar victims.  Now here’s the key question: do you want to care more or less?  Not sure? See which image you put in your mind, long enough to act on it.

This puzzles me a bit re near-far analysis.  It suggests we help distant victims more in near mode, even though far mode is where we more express abstract ideals we want others to see.  Do we not actually want others to think we help distant victims?

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